Gender & Sexuality

Wedding Bells in Illinois?

(Flickr/Benson Kua)
You all have got to be tired by now of me celebrating good news for LGBT rights, bouncing around in my Tigger-y fashion, showing yet another way that we're winning. But I can't help it. As we've discussed, I grew up in the Pleistocene era, when you still had to look over your shoulder leaving a gay bar. Now I'm married to another woman, at least in the eyes of Massachusetts. It's crazy to live through so much social change in just a few decades. (A friend of mine says: "E.J., you sound like one of those older black folks who talk about how miraculous it is to no longer live under Jim Crow." Well, it's true! Being me is no longer a felony!) All of which is to say: here are two more little bright spots that show how fast the tide is changing, coming back in to wash away all the nasty old antigay state DOMA laws that piled up when the shockingly new idea of marrying same-sex pairs was first discussed in 1996, 2000, and 2004. Bright spot #1: Recently the ACLU and Lambda brought two...

1st Circuit Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

Nancy Gill & Marcelle Letourneau, by GLAD
One of the most striking examples of the progress made by supporters of gay and lesbian rights can be seen with respect to the odious Defense of Marriage Act. The bill, which denied federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples and allowed states not to recognize same-sex marriages valid in other states, had been signed by the second-most recent Democratic president after passing both the House and Senate by veto-proof margins. A little more than a decade later, President Obama—even before his recent announcement declaring support for marriage equality—had refused to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court . In an even more important sign of progress today, the worst provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act were ruled unconstitutional by a unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. And particularly since this case is nearly certain to end up in the Supreme Court, the fact that this panel included two Republican appointees is also important. Judge Michael...

I'm Married in Massachusetts—But Am I Married in the United States?

Oh, gosh, it's so confusing. I'm married when I visit my stepson's school. I'm not married when I file federal taxes. I'm married when I fill out forms at the doctor's office. I'm not married when I'm visiting my brother in Texas. Or am I? Yes, I do have a sense of humor about it, especially this morning. Conservative federal judge Michael Boudin—who served in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, and was appointed to the First Circuit by George H.W. Bush—has written an extremely cautious opinion (for a unanimous court) striking down the Defense of Marriage Act's Section 3, which says that for federal purposes, marriage is between one man and one woman. Boudin writes repeatedly that the precedents are tricky and the final decision will have to come from SCOTUS--but in his mind, signs point to yes for my marriage. All the judges think DOMA is indefensible, or at least, that section 3 is. There was Judge Tauro's rhetorically soaring decision in this particular set of cases, Gill v. OPM...

The New Wave

C ontraception is once again up for serious public debate in the United States. How much fun is that? Yes, fun. For years, feminists have been warning that, underneath all the attacks on women’s reproductive rights—the multiplying restrictions on abortion, the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood’s health services, the “conscience clauses” that let pharmacists choose which pills they’ll dispense—lies a determined opposition to contraception and to women’s independence generally. The mainstream media rolled their eyes at feminist paranoia and moved on. Care to question those warnings now? Not after Senator Rick Santorum announced that states should be free to ban birth control, decrying “the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea.” Or after Representative Darrell Issa convened a congressional panel on contraception coverage (er, “religious liberty”) with no women on it. Or after Rush Limbaugh spent three days vilifying a buttoned-up Georgetown law...

The Pro-Life Paradox

Why are anti-abortion legislators cutting essential funds for special-needs children? 

(Celia Johnson)
O n April 12, Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill making Arizona the eighth state in the union to ban abortions beyond 20 weeks. Like most other laws of its kind, House Bill 2036 had been camouflaged as a measure against suffering, predicated on the notion that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain. Every woman who’s ever been pregnant, however, knows what the law really means: Twenty weeks marks a crucial point in a pregnancy, when fetal abnormalities can be detected, often for the first time. Many women confronted with a grim prenatal diagnosis choose to have an abortion. Now, in Arizona, they can’t. As the latest maneuver to undermine the protections of Roe v. Wade , the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion until at least 24 weeks, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child” model has been gaining popularity. Nebraska was the first state to pass such a law in 2010; Idaho, Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Kansas followed, as did Georgia in March (though lawmakers there agreed...

Math is Hard v. I Wanna Be an Engineer!

We've all been hearing that the U.S. future depends on developing more technological talent, so we can keep up with China, et al . And since half the country's potential talent pool is female, that means making sure girls don't end up as innumerate as I am. Both my parents were math majors. My mother took on math with a fury when she was told, in first grade, that girls weren't good at it: She loved it with a passion and was determined to beat every boy at it, which she did, until she met my dad, whom she therefore married. And so she laments the fact that her two daughters absolutely, mulishly refused to study math beyond junior high. God knows they tried to make us, but we balked. We were idiots. Were we held back, unlike our mother, by " stereotype threat "? You know this idea, well-established by researchers since Claude Steele introduced the concept in the 1990s. When students (or anyone, really) from a particular group are reminded about a cultural trope about their group's...

Obama Brings Conservatives Out of the Closet

(Flickr/dfarber)
Call it the Obama effect. Since Obama's pitch- perfect announcement about same-sex marriage, supporting marriage equality is becoming practically chic. A cascade of voices has come out of the closet in favor of it, and hardly anyone has noticed. Obama gave cover—and a little push—to anyone who'd been on the fence. Really, once the president of the United States has gone there, why should the news media pay attention to the thoughts of minor political figures like, oh, Senator Harry Reid , the highest-ranking Mormon in the U.S. government and someone who has just a teensy bit of power to decide whether the Respect for Marriage Act (which would repeal DOMA) moves through the Senate? Or to the fact that the NAACP, an organization with a little bit of history on civil rights, has declared that equal marriage is a just and urgent civil-rights cause, required under the Fourteenth Amendment? (By the way, I loved the fact that the NAACP got out in front of any black church leaders who might...

The War on Contraception Enters the Courts

WikiMedia Commons
Forty-three Roman Catholic plaintiffs—including the archdiocese of New York and the University of Notre Dame—have filed lawsuits alleging that the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage requirements violate the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In case there were any doubts about the political nature of the lawsuits or the unpopularity of this war on contraception, as Salon 's Irin Carmon points out , the Notre Dame lawsuit alleges repeatedly that it would be required to cover "abortifacients” or “abortion inducing” substances although the regulation explicitly excludes them (and the claim that emergency contraception induces abortion is erroneous.) That the lawsuit is cultural warfare, however, does not in itself mean that it is without merit. Should the courts take these claims seriously? Will they? On the first question, I have argued at length elsewhere that both the constitutional and statutory arguments should be rejected. To allow institutions...

What Real Anti-Gay Bullying Looks Like

In much of the United States, Pride parades have become more or less the equivalent of St. Patrick's or Mardi Gras parades, or really, any ethnic festival: a subcultural celebration where everyone's welcome, with floats and trinkets and T-shirts abounding. It's not quite the same in former Soviet bloc countries. Take a look at what happened to Svyatoslav Sheremet, head of the Gay Forum of Ukraine, for trying to arrange a Pride Parade in his country. Then scroll down past the Russian, here , to see pictures of the results. You don't need Google Translate to understand. Hatred is ugly.

Dharun Ravi Goes to Jail

A year and a half ago, Dharun Ravi pulled a stupid, clumsy, and cruel prank. He used his webcam to spy on his male roommate kissing another man, and tweeted about it. Three days later, his roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped off a bridge to his death—and Dharun Ravi's stupid prank became the focus of national outrage about bullying. As I wrote here in March, my fear was that Dharun Ravi would become the scapegoat for a nation that is just awakening to how deadly anti-gay cruelty can be. You know what a scapegoat is, yes? Millennia ago, before the rural Hebrews transformed into the urban Jews—before the Babylonian Exile, in other words, where the Talmud was written, the Jewish equivalent of Christianity's New Testament—those Hebrews annually atoned for their sins by repenting and symbolically putting them all on a goat. The rabbi said prayers making the transfer. The community either killed the goat or sent it off into the wilderness to die. Poof, the community's sins were gone. But with...

Hope and More Hope

I don’t know about you, but Jaclyn Friedman’s series last week filled me with all kindsa hope, or, at least, tamped down my hopelessness. Ending rape in conflict zones ? Ending rape at all? My Eeyore side was looking askance at her pieces every day, slowly and cautiously persuaded that perhaps All Is Not Hopeless. Reading her was like reading Nicholas Kristof’s Mother’s Day article about the fierce spirit of the Ethiopian woman Mahabouba Mohammed, who managed to find her way to Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, an American doctor who has dedicated himself to repairing African fistulas, those horrifying consequences of unattended childbirth. You mean people can do something about the horrible waste of life, about the things we read about that make me want to crawl under a bed? Really? I wouldn’t say it quite made Eeyore’s tail wag, but she did lift an ear. So let me add to the all-is-not-hopeless list. You’ve heard one or two people mention that President Obama made an announcement about gay...

A Farewell and Friday Roundup

This being Friday, seems like the way to wrap up this week's series on ending rape in conflict is with a good old-fashioned link round-up. Before we get into the clicking, a huge thanks to E.J. Graff and the Prospect for hosting me this week, and to all of you for reading. For the first of two rounds of links, and to give you a sense of the movement that's already underway, let's focus on recent actions happening in the four focus countries of the campaign: Congo In the Eastern Congo city of Bukavu, about 150 local people and nearly 50 Congolese community groups gathered to hear survivor testimony and debate the best strategies for action. This new coalition is now quite energized to keep working together. I'm told a lot of video was recorded at the event, so stay tuned. And in the DRC capital Kinshasa, a delegation of local grassroots activists met with the president of parliament to discuss the role of government in preventing rape and protecting the population, leading to a pledge...

How the Sausage Gets Unmade

We've been talking this week about how to stop rape in conflict . As with many massive social changes, I think one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating this atrocity is the common belief that it can't be done. I tried to address that some in Monday's piece , but I thought we could all use a little more nitty-gritty. So I went straight to the source: Liz Bernstein. Bernstein is not only the founding Director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative , but is also a former Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). For those less familiar with ICBL, the important thing to know is that it worked. Five years after the official launch of the campaign, 122 states signed the ban treaty , a feat which earned the campaign and its leader, Jody Williams , the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, stockpiles of the weapon and landmine-contaminated-land have both been drastically reduced, and the only states known to be currently using landmines (as of 2009) are Burma and Russia . While...

Why Sex Matters

We've been talking this week about ending sexual violence in conflict, both why it's an achievable goal , and why it's one that affects you . Now I'm going to get a little personal. I'm a survivor of sexual violence. The details of what happened to me are unimportant to this story, but it's important to me that you know. The experience politicized me, and my anti-sexual-violence activism has taken a lot of forms over the decades. I've taught self-defense, written (and successfully changed) institutional policies, performed educational theater, marched and protested, walk-a-thonned, facilitated infinite "discussion groups," and written what must at this point be hundreds of thousands of words on the subject. And over that time, collaborating and conversing with all kinds of people doing overlapping work, I've slowly come to understand that we can't end the global public health, security, and human rights crisis that is rape without changing the sexual culture that enables it to...

Marriage, Already Redefined

Now that's a traditional marriage. (Flickr/Sam Fam)
As the debate over same-sex marriage has proceeded, one of the arguments you hear most often from those opposed to marriage equality is that there is this thing called "traditional marriage" that has been exactly the same for thousands of years, and if we "change the definition of marriage" to include gay people, well then things are really going to get crazy. There'll be no more rationale for keeping siblings from marrying, or keeping a guy from marrying his dog, or keeping a fish from marrying a toaster. What I don't often hear liberals say in response is: Yes, we are changing the definition of marriage. And that's OK. I think it's because advocates of marriage equality understand that change can often be scary, so the impulse is to say, don't worry, this really isn't any big deal unless you're gay. There's no reason why your extremely, adamantly heterosexual marriage will be affected one way or another if your gay neighbors tie the knot. That happens to be true, and one of the...

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