Gender & Sexuality

The Beauty of “Santorum”

Mitt Romney acquires a Google problem to rival his opponent's.

History’s most famous Google prank just received the sincerest form of flattery. A new website, “ Spreading Romney ,” is now one of the GOP frontrunner’s top online search results. The new site defines “Romney” as “to defecate in terror,” commemorating the miserable 12 hours the Romney family dog spent riding on top of the car during a family trip to Canada. “Spreading Romney's” emergence is the latest tribute to the success of sex columnist Dan Savage’s “ Spreading Santorum ” site, whose profile has risen with each Santorum victory. Savage created the website in 2003, when Santorum was a right-wing senator and culture warrior who distinguished himself by comparing homosexuality to “man on boy, man on dog” sex before suffering a humiliating election defeat in 2006. But even as Santorum has risen from obscurity to presidential contention, he still can’t shake “Santorum.” The day after (what turned out to be) Santorum’s victory in the Iowa caucuses, The New York Times ran a piece on the...

Happy Valentine's Day ... And Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitress

(Flickr/Adikos)
As is true for roughly, oh, 72,000 working parents a day, I'm home today with a sick child. Okay, I made up that "statistic." But here's a real one: 70 percent of all U.S. children are growing up in households with all adults employed. And one-third of those working adults have no paid sick days—almost all of them working for the lowest of wages, who cannot afford to miss even a day of washing dishes or waiting tables. Fortunately, my job is relatively flexible. I can stay home, and I won't be penalized if this isn't my most brilliant Prospect post of the year. But if a waitress's child gets sick, either that child will go to school anyway, or some family member or friend will be drafted hastily to take him in, or the waitress will stay home and lose wages that family really can't afford to do without. Last year, Heather Boushey and Joan Williams wrote a report that should have gotten much more attention than it did, called The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the...

Roland Martin and the Masculinity Patrol

This weekend at The New York Times, Charles M. Blow, one of our great social-issues columnist, tackled the controversy over Roland Martin's Super Bowl tweets last weekend: This week, Roland Martin, a bombastic cultural and political commentator was suspended by CNN from his role as a political analyst on the network for Twitter messages published during the Super Bowl. One message read: “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl.” Another read: “Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass.” Blow assumes good will and good faith on the part of Roland Martin—and still holds him to account for being part of the masculinity patrol . No matter how jovially, mocking deviation from a narrow vision of manhood has real-world consequences, as Blow explains perfectly: Words have power. And power recklessly exerted has consequences...

A Super Bowl for the People

Led by Madonna’s halftime act, this year’s telecast included something for everyone.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Somehow Madonna pulled off an amazing feat during the Super Bowl: bringing gay culture and aggressive female sexuality into the heart of masculinity’s holiest of days without anyone seeming to care. While the cheerleading segment was embarrassingly silly, I otherwise have to disagree with Tom Carson’s assessment that the Super Bowl’s narrative was Clint Eastwood versus Madonna, with Clint winning. I’m more in the camp of Tom’s friend who said, “It was Clint AND Madonna.” Madonna was hauled onto the field by an army of half-naked men in gladiator costumes and then sang “Vogue,” a song about a dance style invented and nourished in gay nightclubs. Madonna even rolled out “Like A Prayer”, a number that used to bait conservatives with its provocative blend of sexual and religious themes. Yet, the only offended response from the guardians of moral purity the Monday after the show was half-hearted complaining that hip-hop performer M.I.A., who joined Madonna and rapper Nicky Minaj onstage,...

Birth Control Chess

(Flickr/brains the head)
Last week, I argued that it was unlikely that many critics of President Obama's contraceptive coverage requirement would be mollified by a compromise that would allow a religious exemption but still mandate that employees be provided with contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. Apparently, we're about to find out if that’s the case. I was very concerned when I first read that Obama was planning to announce a "compromise," and part of me still wishes he had just stood firm given the that the arguments against the new regulation were so bad. But, as described, I believe that the “ accommodation ” that was announced by the administration is acceptable. The bottom line is that employees will still be able to receive contraceptive coverage at no extra cost, and as NARAL's statement explains "[i]t guarantees that women will encounter no barriers from their bosses or insurance plans in getting birth control without a copay." As long as the substantive rights and benefits of employees are...

Don't Spill That Semen!

(Flickr/robertelyov)
When does a cell become a person? That's been widely up for debate with the "personhood" movement, whose goal is to "protect the pre-born" by passing state laws and amendments that define that first moment of sperm-egg contact as full personhood. But why stop there? Why not before the two cells meet? The handwritten semen amendment. Over in Oklahama, state legislator Constance Johnson—my new hero—has introduced an amendment to the state's "personhood" bill that states that "any action in which a man may ejaculate or otherwise deposit semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." Here she explains why: The Personhood bill would potentially allow governmental intrusion into families' personal lives by policing what happens to a woman's eggs without any similar thought to what happens to a man's sperm. My amendment seeks to draw attention to the absurdity, duplicity and lack of balance inherent in the policies of this...

... And Still More Marriage Equality

It might be February, but wedding bells sure are in the air this week. Yesterday, Washington's state legislature passed a marriage bill that Governor Chris Gregoire has said she will sign. It will probably be battled at the ballot box, but I told you this week what I think about that—and the marriage-equality forces think that they're ready to hold the victory among voters. So instead of celebrating that victory, I'm going to pass along a moment of sadness. Robin Tyler has been an out-and-proud lesbian activist for decades, making things happen around the country. She and her wife were the first to marry in Los Angeles, during the brief period when California allowed marriages. And so she's made a small splash with the announcement that she and her wife will be getting divorced after 18 years together. They weren't really the "poster girls for the cause" that the news media wanted them to be. Tyler explains her position well: We didn't want to get married to be perfect. We are human,...

Synecdoche, California

(Flickr/Mylocationscouts)
Many progressive legal commentators, including Dahlia Lithwick and Garrett Epps , have praised Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s opinion holding that California’s Proposition 8—a referendum passed in 2008 making same-sex marriage illegal—is unconstitutional. The praise, however, has not been unanimous. At Balkinization, Jason Mazzone is harshly critical of Reinhardt’s opinion, arguing that “it is dishonest and foolish” and that the Ninth Circuit should “have written a powerful opinion setting out why a ban on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” rather than resting on narrow grounds. In an ideal world, it would be better if the Supreme Court were to declare a right to same-sex marriage that applied immediately to all 50 states. However, I largely disagree with Mazzone’s critique. Most important, it misstates Reinhardt’s analysis and is far too optimistic about the odds that five Supreme Court justices would be willing to strike down bans on same-...

What the Anti-Contraception Conservatives Really Want

(Flickr/Jenny Lee Silver)
Let's stipulate at the outset that almost everyone on the right you hear talking about the issue of contraception coverage is cynically adopting this position for no other reason than they believe it to be a handy cudgel to bash the Obama administration. (One notable exception is Rick Santorum, who genuinely believes that contraception is wrong, since it unleashes our dirty, dirty thoughts and allows people to have sex without being punished for it. But Santorum is also pro-Crusades , so make of that what you will.) They may be right or wrong about the political wisdom of taking up this fight—a lot depends on whether the administration stands firm and makes sure everyone remembers that what we're talking about is birth control, for goodness' sake, something that outside the ranks of the celibate old men who run the Catholic Church is accepted by just about everyone, Catholics included. But we should keep in mind the principle for which conservatives are now arguing. Their argument is...

Why Should the Government Enforce Catholic Church Beliefs?

Flickr/Kim TD
When I was growing up, we had an infinite supply of Catholic babysitters, who all came from families of 7 or 9 or 12. If Margaret stopped babysitting, Mary stepped right in. Once Mary got too old, there was Anne. That was no longer true for my baby sister, born 14 years after me. By the 1970s, those Catholic families had mysteriously stopped adding a new child every year. Now we all know what happened to those families: After 1968, en masse, they rejected the Catholic Church's ban on contraception. In her column today, Gail Collins explains that, now, the Catholic hierarchy is furiously trying to get the U.S. government to come in and enforce its beliefs. Is it really the role of a secular government to take sides in internal theological debates between a church and its members? No one in the administration is making it mandatory for Catholics (or non-Catholic employees at Catholic institutions) to take the Pill, whether for contraception or for the myriad reasons that women try to...

The Jig Is Up

(Flickr/Monik Markus)
As you’ve probably noticed by now, the response of conservative Catholics to President Barack Obama’s decision to require full birth-control coverage from employers who provide health insurance has been to accuse the administration of an attack on religious freedom. These Catholics, and in particular, the Catholic Bishops, would prefer a regime that allows a broad exemption for Catholic-affiliated hospitals, even if they employ nonadherents and serve the general public. Anything less, they argue, is an assault on their constitutional rights. To wit : “The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” said Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield, Mass., told his congregation on Sunday. “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Supporters of the administration argue two things. First is that...

Hurrah for Small Victories: The Perry Decision Is Just Right

I loved the Ninth Circuit decision yesterday, in part for all the reasons Garrett Epps outlines so brilliantly here . It was perfect. It didn't overreach. It was confined to California's very peculiar circumstances. As I wrote in The Nation last year, this is precisely what the LGBT advocates have been privately hoping for: a decision that did not make the broad claim that same-sex couples have a right to marry in every state across the country. The LGBT legal groups won't tell you this openly, but what they really want is for the carefully planned Gill , Pedersen , and Windsor challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to hit SCOTUS first. Those cases don't ask for a federal ruling on our right to marry. Rather, they say: States have already declared these couples married. That's what states do. The federal government doesn't get to pick and choose which marriages it wants to recognize. So I've been hearing from nongay supporters of LGBT rights who ask: Why not? Why didn't you...

There's Something Rotten at the Komen Foundation

Karen Handel's exit from the organization reveals the discord surrounding the Planned Parenthood decision.

AP Photo/John Bazemore
Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, had a placid expression on her face when she assured MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell last week that Karen Handel had nothing much to do with the foundation’s decision to cease funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Brinker was speaking of Komen’s vice president for public policy, a recent hire who stated during her 2010 Georgia gubernatorial campaign that de-funding Planned Parenthood was a policy priority. When Komen cut funds last week to the largest provider of breast cancer screenings in the country, fingers pointed to Handel as the likely catalyst behind the move. Brinker denied it with a straight face. But Karen Handel herself said otherwise. She offered her resignation letter this morning in the wake of the Komen debacle, shortly after the foundation released a hedging statement about retaining Planned Parenthood’s grant eligibility in the future. Handel writes: “I openly acknowledge my role in the...

In Prop. 8 Ruling, a Liberal Lion Coos

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool) Senior Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, left, Circuit Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, center, and Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith hear arguments during a hearing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Today, the federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld a lower-court decision finding California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. S tephen Reinhardt, a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,* has been called almost everything in the book. Conservatives slaver at the mention of his name; even liberals sometimes criticize his audacity. The Onion once ran a deadpan story reporting that he had “ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional ... ‘[i]n accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation.’” The last great liberal lion of a once-numerous pride, Reinhardt has written dozens of decisions that embody old-style judicial liberalism (including one holding that terminally ill individuals have a right to...

Fight to Be Ordinary

AP Photo/Jim Rogash
Recently, someone asked me what it felt like to be married in Massachusetts. After all, our state has had marriage equality longer than any other in the nation, since May 17, 2004 (which, not coincidentally, is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education ). How does the controversy manifest these days? He was clearly surprised by my answer. And because the issue is current, I thought I'd try to explain what it feels like to you, too. But first, the background. Today the Ninth Circuit will issue a decision in Perry v. Brown . You remember Perry ; it's the best-known of the more than half a dozen federal court marriage-equality challenges now underway. Brought by celebrity lawyer team David Boies and Ted Olsen, this challenge would overturn California's Proposition 8 and reinstate same-sex marriages in California—although everyone expects the case to go either en banc or straight to SCOTUS before anything is final. (Chris Geidner has more background here .) Perry is not my...

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