Gender & Sexuality

The Stronger Argument against DOMA

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Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a major part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since DOMA had already been held unconstitutional by the First Circuit , on one level this doesn't change anything, since the case was almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court anyway. But today's opinion is important because the theory underlying the court's holding goes much further than the First Circuit did. The Supreme Court has developed a three-pronged approach to applying the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under this framework, racial classifications have been held to require "strict scrutiny," under which the classification is constitutional only if necessary to achieve a compelling state objective. Most classifications require merely "rational basis" scrutiny—that is, the state only has to show that a classification bears any plausible rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. In practice, laws rarely survive strict scrutiny and...

Another One Bites the Dust

The cognoscenti have been telling me that the Supreme Court won't officially decide whether or not to take a DOMA case until after the election, lest they influence our voting one way or another. But today we got yet another clue that they will have to—and which way they will almost certainly decide. That's because today the Second Circuit Court of Appeals announced that it finds DOMA Section 3 unconstitutional, in yet another decision written by a conservative Republican-appointed judge, as was true in the Massachusetts cases decided by the First Circuit. The case: Edie Windsor, a widow who had been with her wife for 40 years—legally married, of course, only for a few years at the end—was suing the federal government for taxing her wife's estate as if they were legal strangers. A New York federal trial court judge decided summarily that was unconstitutional nonsense—as has every federal court that's heard such a case, in now ten opinions. The Second Circuit today upheld that, saying...

Voting While Trans

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Here’s the thing I loved about talking with Mara Keisling this week: her flat-out declaration that transpeople are winning their civil rights and cultural acceptance battles. I’m crazily Tiggerish on lesbian and gay issues: we’ve come so far so unbelievably fast, over my lifetime, that some days I bounce with glee. But given that the trans part of the LGBT coalition got started about 15 years later and has had very different challenges, I was still an Eeyore about their efforts. So it made my day to hear Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality executive director, declare a coming victory. “Science is on our side, first of all,” she explained. “Common sense is on our side. Decency is on our side. When you get that combination, you win every time.” But of course, winning is not the same as has won— which is why we were discussing the right to vote, and whether transpeople will be able to exercise it this year. Until NCTE launched its “ Voting While Trans ” initiative, it...

Jen Rubin: The Beltway's Waldorf and Statler

Secretary Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the situation in Benghazi on Monday , noting to the press that the “president and the vice-president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.” There are a number of appropriate reactions this statement. One could assume it’s a bit of politicking during election season, an attempt to take the heat off the president and help his re-election bid. One could see it as a diplomatic move, aimed at quelling tensions in the Middle East. One could take it at face value. Or, one could lose her ever-loving mind and accuse Clinton of betraying feminism. The last option was the one chosen by WaPo's Jennifer Rubin, whose writing has become synonymous with “mindless partisan bleating.” Rubin responded to Clinton on Twitter with some creative uses of punctuation: First Bill humiliates her and now Obama does.. Hillary no feminist, more like doormat — Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) October 16, 2012...

Romney Decides to Make Stuff Up on Abortion

Mitt Romney is no stranger to shifting positions on reproductive rights, but even for him, his latest move is audacious. In an ad released today, he simply denies that he’s ever held conservative positions on contraception and abortion: If you can’t watch videos, here’s what the narrator says: “You know, those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraceptions seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it. Turns out, Romney doesn’t oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest, and to save a mother’s life.” It’s hard to definitively say that this isn’t true, because Romney has been intentionally vague about where he stands on these issues. His website says that he is “pro-life,” “believes the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade ,” and supports the “Hyde Amendment,” which bars the use of federal funds for abortion. There’s no mention of exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother...

Open Playing Field

The professional sports world is slowly beginning to loosen its rigid intolerance toward gays.

(Flickr/loweonthego)
(Flickr/loweonthego) Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has become a vocal proponent of marriage equality efforts in Maryland. The professional sports locker room can be a scary place, with unwritten rules and political rankings that include which players get lockers next to each other—or far, far away from one another. There are cliques, hazing, pranks, and outsize expectations of toughness. It’s the ultimate site where the stereotypes of what it means to be a man get played out, and the challenge is to fit in and not shake up the coveted “chemistry” teams strive to create. So it isn’t surprising that not a single active gay athlete has come out in American baseball, hockey, football, or basketball. But as the gay-rights movement makes strides in society at large—including the Obama administration backing marriage equality, more states voting to legalize gay marriage, and the military ending its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—the sports world is starting to change, too, with more...

Marry Me in Maryland?

(Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)
(Flickr/friendofhillary) In all probability, Marylanders for Marriage Equality will be disappointed by November 6th's referendum results. This fall, opponents of marriage equality will lose a much-beloved talking point: that in every state in which same-sex marriage has gone on the ballot, voters have rejected it. On November 6, the freedom to marry someone of the same sex is up for a vote in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. Each state's initiative and situation is quite different, but in at least one (Maine), and possibly three (Maine, Maryland, and Washington), voters are going to offer marriage licenses to their lesbian and gay neighbors. Let's start by looking at Maryland. The backstory: In February, the Maryland legislature passed, and on March 1, Governor Martin O'Malley enthusiastically signed, a marriage-equality law. Named in jujitsu fashion, "The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act" explicitly addressed the canard that allowing civil...

Are Women Better Off Than We Were Four Years Ago: Take Two

The story so far. Last week I objected to the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” I object to the idea that my well-being can be reduced purely to economics, or to few things that the president can affect. (One colleague wrote: My 90-year-old mother would certainly say she’s not better off than she was four years ago, but that’s more about her health than about her wallet!) So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall? Last week we checked in on our financial well-being, given that finances are indeed important. But there’s more to life than our checkbooks and retirement plans. So welcome to Episode Two: Our Bodies, Our Well-Being. There’s some good news and some bad news. As you know, this past year, some prominent menfolk have been deeply distressed to learn that we believe that...

Scott Brown: Pro-Choice for Limiting Abortion Access

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown, left, shakes hands with his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren prior to debate sponsored by the Boston Herald at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, Massachusetts, Monday, October 1, 2012. M itt Romney launched a new strategy to position himself as a moderate Republican during the first presidential debate, a move that has already reaped moderate successes in the polls. But, the strategy has a forerunner. Senator Scott Brown, the two-year Massachusetts incumbent facing a strong challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren, claimed the mantle of "Last Remaining Sane Republican" while Romney was still trying to outdo Rick Santorum in a contest of who had the least respect for women’s basic health care rights. (Full disclosure: Warren's daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is a member of The American Prospect ’s board of directors and is chair of the board of the magazine’s publishing partner, Demos.) One of the linchpins of...

Show Me The Money: Correction

Last week, I launched a series simultaneously attacking and hijacking the quadrennial question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? For the first one, I reported on how women are doing economically compared to four years ago. But one of my sentences confused readers—apparently because I myself was confused. For my correction, let me simply quote what Heidi Hartmann of IWPR, one of the labor economists I cited, wrote me: I do have a little trouble with this sentence though because I’m not sure what you were trying to get at. If I said something like this I was not very accurate: Elderly women have fared a little better, because older people who live on Social Security haven’t lost much. They weren’t as affected by the drop in housing prices or the evaporation of pensions, since they hadn’t had jobs to begin with. It might be better to phrase it slightly differently: Elderly women have fared a little better, because older people who live on Social Security haven’t lost...

Sorry Feminists—NOT!

A Twitter meme pokes fun at the stereotype of feminists as unsexy.

(Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
A good internet meme may last but a day, but the concerns it addresses are often perennial. So it was with the Twitter hashtag #sorryfeminists , which was born, matured, and perished within the span of a workday , as chronicled at the Atlantic Wire . But while the meme got boring fast, the problem it addressed remains. Why do stereotypes of feminists as anti-fun, unsexy, and humorless persist? Generation after generation, going all the way back to the suffragists, feminists have tried to crush these tropes by proving their "pants on fire" status. Every time we believe we’ve suffocated the stereotype with miniskirted beauties with pro-choice signage and Emmy-laden feminist comedians, someone pulls the “feminists are so grim” card to score an easy point, and we’re reminded that we’ll never really be rid of this cheap but disturbingly effective attack. The latest kerfuffle began when the editor of T Magazine , Deborah Needleman, lived up to her surname by tweeting, “The sexy (sorry,...

We Blinded Her from Science

Why are there so few women in STEM fields? Hint: The problem is not just about "lifestyle choices."

(Flickr/Argonne National Laboratory)
As an undergraduate at Stanford, Debbie Sterling once ran out of a mechanical drafting course, crying. Sterling was one of about five women in the class, and even though she loved drawing, she was having trouble with her final assignment. “I couldn’t get it quite right,” she admitted. But she never thought a struggle with one assignment would lead to what happened next. During a critique, the two male teaching assistants asked the class, “OK, who thinks that Debbie should pass this class?” The room remained silent. “Nobody raised their hands. I was mortified,” she said. “That’s the moment where I was really considering just giving up and thinking I didn’t have what it takes.” Sterling experienced other, more subtle instances of gender bias throughout her undergraduate career. “I often felt like the guys didn’t take me seriously. It was hard to contribute or I would get ignored,” she says. “But I’ve heard Stanford is better than other places.” Surrounded by men in her science and...

Better Know a Ballot Measure

(Flickr/radarxlove and jamelah e.)
When Oregon voted on the nation’s first ballot initiative in 1904, the idea—as high-school civics teachers have told students ever since—was to take power away from the industries that ran the state legislature through bribes and corruption and return it to the people. In those days, corporate interests dominated and corrupted state politics all across the United States. Mining and railroad companies loomed particularly large, buying off entire legislative chambers and putting lawmakers on their payroll. The emerging progressive movement thought it had found a way to fight back: Give citizens the ability to create their own legislation and put it up for a popular vote—a process known as the initiative. There was also the referendum, a tool citizens could use to veto laws at the ballot box. These ballot measures offered a way for the grassroots to make their voices heard. As your civics teacher might have told you, several states would soon join Oregon in using the new power of “direct...

Shame on the Boy Scouts

Just in case the Boy Scouts hadn't hurt their reputation enough, they just told a longtime Boy Scout in California that he can't be an Eagle Scout—because he came out as gay, according to Yahoo. Yes, it's stupid to screen out adult gay men as Scoutmasters, but at least you could assume that, once upon a time, the Boy Scouts did that because they genuinely (if mistakenly) confused gay men with pedophiles. If all you hear in "homosexuality" is the "sexuality" part, and if you want to protect boys from predators, that mistake can be explained. The problem, of course, is that by looking for predators in the wrong group, the Boy Scouts let the real molesters slip back in again and again. But the only heart you break, there, is that of an adult who can get a little perspective. It's nasty, too, to tell a stay-at-home mom that she can't be the den mother of her son's Cub Scout pack because she's a lesbian—even though the other parents drafted her for the volunteer spot. But at least Jennifer...

Where's the Policy?

Like so many people—most, I would argue—I don’t so much listen to the presidential debates as watch them. As the words drone on in the background, I watch how they stand, where they look, what they emphasize. You’ve already read Bob Moser’s and Robert Kuttner’s detailed critiques of the President’s debate performance, and you don’t need my echo. But what I saw last night—whether accurately or not—was this: An exhausted President Obama isn’t completely sure he still wants the job. I’m not saying that is true; I am saying that that’s how he looked. Sure, he might have been preoccupied with the fact that, yesterday, Turkey made a preliminary foray into war with Syria—the man does have a demanding day job—but my fellow spectators on Twitter were crazed as Obama failed to make the case for his continued presidency. Someone tweeted, “Does Canada make you self-deport? Asking for a friend.” Others urged Team Obama to send Bill Clinton in as his designated hitter for the next two debates,...

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