Gender & Sexuality

Gay Rights, There and Back Again

Flickr/Chris Phan
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Demonstrators chant during a rally against Proposition 8 outside City Hall in San Francisco, March 4, 2009. The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of the ban this week. T omorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I’ve written about and followed LGBT issues, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin , the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn’t occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime. This will be...

The Super-Sexy Case Against Gay Marriage

When I get that feelin', I need Supreme Court amicus briefs.
Three years ago, in a column titled "It's Not You, It's Me," I noted that a rhetorical shift had occurred among opponents of gay rights. In earlier times, there was lots of talk about the immorality of homosexuality and how depraved gay people were, but now those sentiments have become marginalized. For more mainstream spokespeople, the argument against same-sex marriage is not about gay people at all but about straight people. The problem with same-sex marriage, they say, is the effect gay people's marriages will have on straight people's marriages. What that effect will be, they can't precisely say, but they're sure it'll be bad. Similarly, when we argued (briefly) about repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, their claims were not about whether gay soldiers could do their jobs, but whether their presence would make straight soldiers uncomfortable. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases challenging California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage...

Have You Heard? Feminism's Over!

Flickr/Seattle Municipal Archives
Flickr/James Vaughan G ood news, ladies! Feminism has fizzled, and those of us who aren’t suckers are giving up our career dreams to follow our female nature. Our lady brains and lady bodies aren’t cut out for the workplace, you see, and our manly, oafish husbands will never be as good as we are at cleaning the toilet, so why fight it? We’ll all be more fulfilled if we quit our jobs and make like June Cleaver by way of Martha Stewart. At least this is the point of the latest "trend" piece in New York magazine by Lisa Miller. Let's get the debunking out of the way. The essential problem with Miller’s piece is that is doesn’t describe an actual, documented trend. Her entire theory is hung on a small uptick—in 2011—of women choosing to leave the workforce in order to parent. That's not a trend; it's a data point. Otherwise fact-free, this piece is perhaps best understood as an essay on its writer's self-concept, and on that of the publication in whose pages it appears. Miller clearly...

The New Gay-Rights Frontier

Flickr/Stéfan
A s the Supreme Court prepares to take its first serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage—with oral arguments set to begin March 26 in back-to-back challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act—gay-rights activists and their supporters in the New Jersey Legislature are quietly advancing their fight for LGBT equality on a separate front, with a concerted push to undermine the practice of controversial gay conversion therapy in the state. Polls show that public support for legalizing gay marriage has hit an all-time high, with 58 percent of Americans—including a growing number of Republicans—now in favor of granting same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. But even the staunchest of activists recognize that victory for marriage rights in Washington will be but an incremental step on the road to equality for a community that has been consistently denied equal protection under the law. Consider that only 18...

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong. But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually...

The Political Is Personal

AP Photo/Mike Munden
On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked , "what if his son weren't gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step." That's true, and we might also ask what took him so long; after all, Portman wrote that his son came out to him two years ago, and that seems like a rather extended period of introspection. Portman may not be a civil-rights hero, but if nothing else his announcement is likely to force people to confront the ways public policy is or isn't shaped by legislators' own experiences. And now, many of them will be asked what they would do in Portman's shoes. That was what Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked on Sunday's This Week , and he answered, "I believe that...

Before You Know It, Change Happens

Movie Still/Mike Simpson
At SXSW, a festival geared toward the young, beautiful, and hip, I’m guessing few expected to be bowled over by a documentary film about aging and aged gay men. But Before You Know It , which made its debut this week, does indeed leave you wowed—and unexpectedly hopeful about the plight of gay seniors. The problems of aging are scary for any population, but for a generation of gay people, the situation is particularly difficult: many lost their connection to family when they came out and don't have partners to turn to for help as their needs increase. Following three gay men—one in his 60s, the other two in their 70s—director P.J. Raval sets out to chronicle what it is to be wrinkled and slow in a young, fast culture. Almost immediately, however, the movie documents the importance of creating a chosen-family—and just how difficult finding community can be for those who start looking late in life. In Galveston, Texas, Robert has built Robert’s LaFitte, a gay bar famous across the...

Born This Way?

AP Photo/High Point Enterprise, Don Davis Jr.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson Dr. Rob Garofalo, left, a physician specializing in adolescent medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, listens in on a conversation at the Broadway Youth Center in Chicago. Garofalo helped create the youth center, which is one of the few places across the country services and support to transgender youth. F rom the time she could talk, Maggie* has told her parents that she is a boy. She doesn’t say, “I want to be a boy.” She doesn’t say, “I feel like a boy.” She says, “I am a boy.” She tells her classmates, too. Lately—she’s in elementary school now—they’ve been having debates about it. “Maggie’s a boy,” one kid said recently, in a not-unfriendly, matter-of-fact sort of way. “No, you idiot,” countered another. “She’s a girl. She’s wearing pink shoes.” On a recent Tuesday morning, psychologist Kenneth Zucker tells this story...

Toxic Masculinity

AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law
AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law Judge Thomas Lipps listens to arguments in Jefferson County Juvenile Court in a case involving two Ohio high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl. L ast summer, two young football players in the Ohio town of Steubenville carried the unconscious body of a local girl from party to party, violating her in ways you’d probably prefer not to think about. (I’m not pretending this incident is merely “alleged,” because there’s video and this column isn’t a court of law.) Today, she’ll face her attackers in court for the first time. It’s a brave act, as she surely knows she’ll not only be facing down the boys who did this to her, but also the adults whose jobs it is to blame her and call her a liar. Only she can know what will make this sacrifice worthwhile: Is it enough for her to be heard in court? Will it only be healing if the boys are convicted? Whatever it is she needs, I hope she gets it. But rape prosecutions are argued on behalf...

Sheryl Sandberg’s Can-Do Feminism

AP Photo/Gregory Bull
AP Photo/Gregory Bull Sheryl Sandberg at a luncheon for the American Society of News Editors in San Diego in 2011 I n 1956, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg entered Harvard Law School, her class of more than 500 students included nine women and one black man. Erwin Griswold, the school’s dean, summoned the nine women and asked each to answer a question: How could she justify taking a place that would otherwise have gone to a man? Griswold would later insist he’d just been playing devil’s advocate. Ginsburg, who still tells this story with a tinge of resentment, emerged from the meeting determined to prove him wrong. A half-century later, Angie Kim, Harvard Law School class of ’93, surveyed 226 women in her class. A decade and a half after graduating, almost one-third of the women described themselves as stay-at-home mothers, which they indicated was a temporary status; nearly another third had arranged “mommy track” part-time or flexible work. With numbers like these among women with...

Life at the Bottom

Flickr/Sport Suburban
Flickr/SportsSuburban A female cashier at the McDonalds in Spokane, Washington. T he release of 2012 minimum-wage data last Wednesday—which shows that the number of minimum-wage workers has fallen but is still higher than any period since 1998—has underscored the importance of making good on Obama’s pledge of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. As many have pointed out, women stand to benefit disproportionately from the increase: Two-thirds of the country’s roughly 1.6 million minimum-wage workers are women. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data show that work at the bottom of the pay scale tends to be highly segregated by gender—the three largest occupational groups, making up 67 percent of minimum-wage jobs, are 65 percent female—and includes jobs historically performed by women such as child care and home health services. According to experts, the problem is twofold: While essential, businesses tend to underpay for these types of work, a problem compounded by the...

Rand Paul's Blinkered Libertarianism

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Rand Paul at a book signing at LPAC 2011 in Reno, Nevada. Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process. Still, for all of Paul's eloquence on this sphere of civil liberties, he's decidedly less interested in the other areas where government uses the threat of force to compel action. Paul's brand of civil libertarianism—the war on drugs as assaults on freedom—doesn't extend to women's bodily autonomy. In his two years as the junior senator from Kentucky, Paul has supported "personhood" legislation (which would outlaw abortion and put major restrictions on several forms of contraception), threatened to...

Yet Another Thing Guns Can't Solve

Flickr/ Texas Lightbox
The GOP is worried about women’s safety on campus. Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe of late, howling in protest at Colorado state Democratic representative Joe Salazar’s clumsy remarks about callboxes , and calling out the University of Colorado for teaching young women to vomit, pee, or tell an assailant they have their period in order to avoid rape . And they’re right: Neither call boxes nor vomit are particular effective rape-prevention strategies. Most rapists choose a victim they know, and get them alone in private before they attack—even a pathway fully lined with call boxes won’t prevent much rape, because most of them happen in rooms. And I’m not sure what vomit is supposed to accomplish; rape isn’t inspired by sexual desire, so attempting to douse it is a misdirected strategy. Rapists choose targets they think seem vulnerable, not hot. But there’s a bigger problem with Repubicans’ newfound passion for rape prevention. Their antidote to callboxes and puke is...

Victory for the Violence Against Women Act

Phil Roeder / Flickr
Early this morning, the House of Representatives passed the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes the protections for LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native Americans that House Republicans rejected at the end of last year. As Amanda Marcotte writes , "their ongoing resistance to this popular legislation was starting to make them look like monsters," and so they caved. The bill will soon head to the president's desk, and once signed, the federal government will—again—begin providing funds to better prosecute violence against women, and to assist shelters and services for victims of domestic abuse. It's an unqualified piece of good work by a Congress that has been slow to do "good" and "work" for the last two years. There's also an important political point to take away from this. The House passed the VAWA by a vote of 286 to 138, with all Democrats voting in favor. Only 87 Republicans voted to support the bill. The remaining members of the GOP conference...

Leaning Out—of This Fight

AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron, File
I am leaning in just a little as I write this. OK, I’m not. But I am feeling a little sick as I ponder the next unpleasant installment of the “mommy wars” that’s hurtling toward us. This past Friday, The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor assembled the ingredients for yet another bitter and prolonged back-and-forth about women and work. At its center is Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead , a new book that purports to show American women the way out of our relative powerlessness. In it, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gives women advice on how to assume leadership roles by, among other things, understanding our strengths and reassessing how we hold our bodies in business meetings. On the other side of the ring, we have Anne Marie Slaughter , the Princeton Professor and former Obama Administration official, who with her viral “we can’t have it all” essay in The Atlantic this past summer, can serve as a foil to the first. Finally, critically, we have the media , who (myself...

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