Gender & Sexuality

Daily Meme: Fred Phelps, God's Gift to Gay Rights

You've no doubt heard that Fred Phelps, the terror of Topeka, Kansas, and patriarch of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist church, died late Wednesday night at 84. While Phelps came to infamy picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard and countless other gay men, that was only the beginning of his family church's two-decade hate tour across the country, as Jay Michaelson reminds us: " they expanded their targets to include women, Jews, Barack Obama, and eventually, anyone associated with the United States itself —including dead soldiers, whose distraught relatives were mystified to find fire-breathing fundamentalists shouting at funerals." For the LGBT rights movement, there's no question that Phelps was, in Richard Kim's words, "a useful bigot." Phelps exposed the lie behind the old Christian copout, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." He said it himself: “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to...

The Strange Bedfellows of the Anti-Contraception Alliance

AP Images/Patrick Semansky
AP Images/Patrick Semansky O n March 25, lawyers representing the owners of a large purveyor of craft supplies and a much smaller cabinetry business will appear before the Supreme Court in what has become the cornerstone case for opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.” Under the mandate, all employers—with the exception of religious organizations like churches—must include free birth control under their insurance plans. Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service agencies immediately raised a ruckus. Dozens of Catholic nonprofits filed lawsuits against the government, arguing that because their tradition forbids them from using birth control, paying for it—even indirectly through insurance—would violate their religious liberty. The cases that will appear before the highest court deal with a different question: whether the owners of corporations can claim religious liberty exemptions. But there’s a stranger and less remarked-upon twist. The owners of both...

Daily Meme: Happy Straight Pride Day!

It's not just the scores of 30-somethings who revert to their frat-boy days and fill the streets with their drunken antics on March 17 that have led some in the gay community to call St. Patrick's Day the straight holiday. For a long time running, parades across the country celebrating Ireland's patron saint—including the New York City and Boston's—have refused to allow LGBT groups to join in the festivities. In Boston, things looks like they might have been different this year. After weeks of tense negotiations, it appeared MassEquality, a gay-rights group, would be able to send a delegation of 20 gay veterans to the Boston parade ... ... until the South Boston Allied War Veterans' Council, the sponsor of the event, specified that the participants could not let on in any way that they were gay. "It is our intention to keep this parade a family friendly event," the organizers said . "We will not allow any group to damage the integrity of the historic event—or our reputation as a safe...

News Flash: An Abortion Provider Wins in Kansas

AP Photo/John Hanna
AP Photo/John Hanna Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus observes a State Board of Healing Arts meeting flanked by her attorneys, Kelly Kauffman, left, and Bob Eye in Topeka, Kansas. S ince the death of George Tiller, the third-trimester abortion provider who was killed in Wichita in 2009, former abortion doctor Ann Kristin Neuhaus has been fighting Operation Rescue—one of the country’s most radical anti-choice groups—alone. As part of their effort to oust “Tiller the Killer,” Operation Rescue lodged frequent accusations of medical misconduct with the Board of Healing Arts, the state medical licensing board, against Tiller and his colleagues. After his murder, Operation Rescue turned the full force of its ire on Neuhaus, who had worked on and off as a consultant for Tiller in the early 2000s. Appeals to the Board of Healing Arts hadn’t worked in the past, but the 2010 elections swept in Sam Brownback, a virulent opponent of abortion, as governor. Brownback had the power to select new members for...

The Last Rural Abortion Clinics in Texas Just Shut Down

AP Images/Pat Sullivan
S ince November, the last abortion clinics in East Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, some of the poorest and most remote parts of the state, have been hanging on by their fingernails. The two clinics, both outposts of a network of abortion providers called Whole Woman’s Health, stayed open with slimmed-down staffs while their owner, Amy Hagstrom Miller, struggled to comply with the first chunk of HB2—the voluminous anti-choice law passed by the Texas legislature last summer—which requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Today, after weeks of failed negotiations with nearby hospitals, Hagstrom Miller announced that both clinics are closing their doors. The clinics in Beaumont, about an hour east of Houston, and McAllen, just north of the Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, were the last rural abortion providers left in Texas. Between July, when HB2 passed, and November, when the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, nearly half of...

The Citizens United of the Culture Wars

Flickr/Mark FIscher
Flickr/Mark FIscher E ven a broken clock is right twice a day. Heeding calls from gay-rights supporters, business groups, and Republicans like John McCain and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on Wednesday Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed a "religious liberty" bill that would have allowed for-profit businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians so long as they were motivated by "sincerely held religious belief.” A nearly identical law failed to advance in Kansas last week. Now, in light of the blowback, anti-gay discrimination bills in conservative legislatures—including Mississippi, Georgia, and Oklahoma— have stalled , and even lawmakers who voted for such measures are stepping back their support. The failure of these anti-gay discrimination bills amounts to a stern rebuke to the religious right, which sees defeat on the horizon in the gay-marriage fight. Just in the past two months, judges have overturned bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and...

The Revolt of the Elites

Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the longest time, Democrats were the party of infighting and disunity, whose squabbling never failed to find its way into the news. It's a grim inside joke among liberals that the most common headline in the political media is "Democrats in Disarray." But it hasn't been that way for a while. In fact, perhaps the most important political dynamic of the current era is the conflict within the previously monolithic Republican party. Not that there wasn't always tension between the Republican establishment, whose primary concern was laissez-faire economics, and the conservative foot soldiers spread across the country, who cared much more about social issues. But open warfare between the two was rare. Not these days, though. And after a couple of years of the establishment running scared, today they can celebrate (if that's the right word) a momentary victory. Yesterday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill passed by the legislature there that would have made it legal to deny...

Daily Meme: Is Arizona the New Kansas?

As if Arizona didn't have enough of a PR problem. Four years after igniting outrage for passing anti-immigrant law SB 1070, the Grand Canyon state is going after the gays. Under the guise of protecting "religious liberty," on Friday Arizona passed a law that would allow for-profit companies to deny service to gays and lesbians so long as they're motivated by their religious beliefs—a move so radical even Kansas balked at passing similar legislation earlier this month. Social conservatives say such laws protecting religious conscience are necessary as gay marriage sweeps the nation . The bill now goes to Governor Jan Brewer, who vetoed similar legislation last year but has asserted the right of business-owners to refuse gays and lesbians service: "In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom." ... This freedom to discriminate, say gay-rights...

The Fatal Flaw in the Right's Latest Case Against Marriage Equality

Parents at a gay pride parade imparting dangerous values to their children. (Flickr/Caitlin Childs)
A trial starts tomorrow in federal court about whether Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, and as the New York Times explained over the weekend, it will offer an interesting test of the best research conservatives could come up with to support their contention that gay parents are bad for children. When we take a close look at what they'll put on the stand, it shows something that I think applies to a lot of areas of the conservative movement these days: when they try to play seriously on the field of ideas, what they come up with is, frankly, pathetic. After years of watching researchers fail to find any ill effects of children being brought up by gay people, conservatives felt like they had to do something, and here's what they did: In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children, according to recent pretrial depositions of...

Why Don't We Have Viagra for Women Yet?

AP Images/Allen Breed
L ast week, a small drug company called Sprout Pharmaceuticals announced that its version of “female Viagra” —a medication designed to enhance women’s libidos—was going back for yet another battery of tests. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants more data on how Sprout’s drug, the whimsically named “flibanserin,” affects driving ability. If this news sparked a little twinge of déjà vu, don’t be surprised. For more than a decade, pharmaceutical companies have trudged through round after round of clinical trials in pursuit of a drug that can alleviate some of the symptoms of female sexual dysfunction. Inevitably, a new set of tests makes headlines. Given Viagra’s blockbuster success since it was approved in 1998—in 2012, sales totaled more than $2 billion—there is a huge untapped market for a drug like flibanserin. More than 40 percent of women suffer from some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. The most common complaint is hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a...

It's Not Illiberal To Defend Fundamental Rights

AP Images/Idaho Statesman/Joe Jaszewski
"In addition to whatever else the prosecution can prove," a judge told a defense lawyer on an early episode of Law & Order , "your client is guilty of bad timing." The same is true of The Week 's Damon Linker, who wrote two posts urging liberals to temper their pursuit of justice for gays and lesbians in order to to respect the religious freedom of opponents of equal rights. Unfortunately for Linker, this was the same month the Kansas state House of Representatives passed abominable legislation that would have allowed not only private employers but state employees to discriminate against gays and lesbians. It demonstrated exactly where this kind of logic can lead. I will assume that Linker, like even a number of Republicans in the Kansas Senate, would not advocate going as far as the Kansas House did. But given the extent to which support for discriminating against gays and lesbians is being advanced under the banner of "religious liberty," it worth noting that Linker's more...

There's No Place Like Homophobic Kansas

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner Representative Ray Merrick, speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, which passed a broad bill allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians last week. C ount it as yet another thing wrong with Kansas, where schools teach kids Adam and Eve rode the dinosaurs and it's safer to be a gang member than an abortion provider . Last week, lawmakers in the state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives set off outrage across the country by passing a law that would not only make it legal for private businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgender people; it would also permit state employees—long obliged by our legal tradition to serve all customers on equal terms—to deny LGBT people basic services as long as they are motivated by "sincerely held religious beliefs." Narrow exemptions for religious and religiously-affiliated institutions have increasingly become a standard part of gay-marriage bills as more and more states begin to enact...

Marriage Equality Opponents Left With Nothing But Tradition

Now there's a traditional marriage. I believe that's Tasha Yar presiding. (Flickr/TrekRadio)
2013 was not a good year for opponents of marriage equality. Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Minnesota were added to the list of states allowing same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. And if anything, 2014 is shaping up to move even faster. Earlier this week, a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. And last night, a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on same-sex marriage the state passed in 2006. The judge stayed her decision until a higher court can rule on the inevitable appeal. But with these cases piling up, it seems obvious that the Supreme Court is going to rule sooner rather than later on the legality of same-sex marriage bans, something they've been trying to avoid until now. And with the continued evolution of American culture and public opinion in favor of equality, the chance that those bans will be...

Kansas's Radical Attack on Gays and Lesbians

Flickr/John Lemieux
The bill passed by the Kansas House of Representatives today has a bland title—"An act concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage." But the language cannot conceal the vicious discrimination it's intended to protect. The bill would allow not only private businesses but, quite remarkably, state officials to withhold services from gays and lesbians as long as it is motivated by a "sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender." This reprehensible proposed law would render gays and lesbians second-class citizens in Kansas and deprives them of rights most people have long taken for granted. The law allows private business to deny gays and lesbians "services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges" based on their sexual orientation. By granting immunity to anyone who denies services to gays and lesbians based on an asserted religious belief, it would prevent gays and lesbians from suing even based on common-...

Michael Sam, "Distraction"

AP Images/Brandon Wade
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam was the co-winner of the Defensive Player of the Year for the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. While a little undersized for an NFL player at his position, Sam was certainly a decent pro prospect certain to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. But Sam is no longer just of interest to SEC fans and NFL draft obsessives. On Sunday, Sam came out as gay . If he makes an NFL roster, he would certainly not be the first gay man to play in the NFL, but he would be the first to be out to the public during his playing career. Whether he will get a fair shot to make it as an NFL player, however, is not entirely clear, as multiple NFL decisionmakers have announced their intent to discriminate. Of course, these anonymous executives and coaches who spoke to Sports Illustrated cloaked their bias in various passive-aggressive evasions. A gay player would "chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room" said one. "[D]o you really want to be the top...

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