Gender & Sexuality

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...

Not Just Marriage: The Other Fights for Gay and Trans Rights

Flickr/WeNews
It's already clear that gay marriage will be, once again, a major issue this year. Today, in a major victory for gay marriage advocates, a panel of federal judges ruled California's gay marriage ban is constitutional. Last week, the Washington state Senate approved a bill recognizing same-sex marriage, paving the way for gay marriage to become law. But the fight for same-sex marriage is only a piece of a larger civil rights struggle. And with all eyes focused on the issue of matrimony, it's easy to miss some of the other battlegrounds. For instance, parental rights has long been an issue for gay couples concerned about legal protections. In Iowa, health officials are looking to the courts for how to identify same-sex couples with children. According to the Muscatine Journal , last month, the Polk county court ruled the state should list both the birth mother and her female partner as the parents of one child, conceived through an anonymous sperm donor. The Iowa Department of Public...

Komen Coverage Makes Ross Douthat Sad

The columnist's assertions of media bias during the Komen controversy rest on shaky ground.

As you might expect, Ross Douthat is unhappy about the backlash against the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation's decision to defund Planned Parenthood. His argument rests upon assertions of media bias that are shaky since, as Sarah Kilff notes , it's likely that media bias wouldn't have been a factor in Komen coverage precisely because of the political leanings of the average journalist. While it's plausible to assume the typical journalist is more socially liberal (as well as more economically conservative) than the median public opinion, I would argue that this is less true with respect to abortion than with other social issues. Punditry dismissing the importance of Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights, in particular, is so common as to be banal. In addition to this argument about media bias, Douthat also cites public opinion data, focusing on "as many Americans described themselves as pro-life as called themselves pro-choice" and that a "combined 58 percent of Americans stated...

Planned Parenthood Wins the Komen Showdown

AP Photo
Remember last week's Komen kerfuffle? (OK, it was more than a kerfuffle, but I love that word.) Katha Pollitt, among others, noticed that the breast-cancer-awareness group's apology for dropping Planned Parenthood from its future grantees was at best ambiguous . She too sees this as a clear win for Planned Parenthood: We hear so much anti-choice propaganda, we may not always remember that, actually, Planned Parenthood is not sketchy and controversial out there in mainstream America. It is beloved. Beloved. Note the relief- and gratitude-saturated testimonies like the ones collected practically overnight by the social media activist Deanna Zandt at the Tumblr site Planned Parenthood Saved Me . And it is beloved most of all by women who care a lot about women’s health—among whom Komen volunteers figure prominently. Breast cancer activism began as a feminist cause, after all: the initial impetus, back when Komen was founded in 1982, was the silence and shame surrounding the disease, the...

Has Komen Reversed Course?

Here's the statement that Komen for the Cure has released explaining its new position. I've bolded some parts: We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives. The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not. Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair. Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer . Amending our...

Because You Need To See Michelle Obama Dance With Ellen DeGeneres

Oh yes you do. 

It's just the first 40 seconds of the video. Check it: video platform video management video solutions video player

Contraception, Co-Pays, and the Church

The Obama administration took some hits last week after it announced that employers with religious affiliations would not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's mandate to cover preventive services without a co-pay—including contraception. At The Washington Post , E.J. Dionne* was quite peeved at the administration's insensitivity to the Catholic Church. Yesterday, the White House set up a news media conference call with senior administration officials to go over the decision's basic talking points. When I asked for a link, they pointed me to the following White House blog post , written by Cecilia Muñoz. Let me excerpt the bullet points, which are essentially what was covered in the call: Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception. No individual health-care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception : ... For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a...

Shattering the Susan G. Komen Pinkwashing

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
By now you know that, two days ago, the anti-breast-cancer behemoth Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would no longer fund some Planned Parenthood affiliate's breast-cancer screenings: Planned Parenthood said the Komen grants totaled roughly $680,000 last year and $580,000 the year before, going to 19 of its affiliates for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services. According to Planned Parenthood, its health centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 as a result of Komen grants. Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic reports that, as everyone immediately assumed, Komen was buckling to pressure from anti-abortion activists and staff: Komen, the marketing juggernaut that brought the world the ubiquitous pink ribbon campaign, says it cut-off Planned Parenthood because of a newly adopted foundation rule prohibiting it from funding any group that is under formal investigation by a government body. (Planned...

Stop the Damsel in Distress Act

Parks and Recreation's once-funny and subversive lead character turns into an anti-feminist cliché.

AP Images/Chris Haston
If you’re looking to get into the pants of a feminist, wonkish liberal, make sure to work Parks and Recreation into your sweet nothings. The hit NBC show's main character, Leslie Knope—a hyper-competent assistant parks director played by Saturday Night Live -alumna Amy Poehler—is one of those rare female comic characters who is allowed dignity along with competence. The sitcom is a love letter to the hard-working government bureaucrats who keep our streets clean and our communities safe only to find their work repeatedly bashed by pandering Republicans looking to score points against so-called big government. Unfortunately, everything that has made the show a winner with the smart set hasn’t resulted in ratings high enough to justify keeping it on the air. Watching the fourth season, I’ve come to fear that, in a last-ditch attempt to save the show, the writers are selling out their vision of a sweet-but-subversive sitcom and saddling Leslie with romantic story lines that buy into the...

Komen Foundation Races for the Cuts

The breast-cancer awareness group caves to anti-choice groups and pulls its funds from Planned Parenthood.

AP Photo/Ricardo Thomas
Since its founding in 1982, the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure has developed a massive network of breast cancer survivors and advocates, made its Race for the Cure ubiquitous, and has grown enough to call itself “the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.” Over the years, the group has committed at least $1.2 billion to breast cancer research, advocacy, and services. At the same time, Planned Parenthood, has become one of the largest providers of breast cancer screenings in the nation, particularly for low-income women and women without insurance. In the past five years, more than four million breast exams were performed in Planned Parenthood clinics, along with more than 70,000 mammogram referrals. With a common cause of keeping women healthy, the two iconic organizations partnered together to make breast cancer screenings and education programs affordable. But that association came to an abrupt end Tuesday, when it was...

Balancing Faith and Contraceptives

Criticisms of President Obama's new birth control policy skip over the benefits for women's health.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues against the Obama administration's laudable decision to require employer-provided health-insurance packages to cover contraception. The new rule, according to Dionne, is a "breach of faith" that the "administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here." Dionne's argument is, however, extremely unconvincing. As an alternative to the Obama administration’s decision, Dionne touts what he calls a compromise. Under Dionne’s proposal, to get coverage for contraceptives, employees would have to pay more for a separate plan to obtain it, but "religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact." The requirement that employers provide written notice before denying people their federally guaranteed statutory rights is, to put it mildly, not an acceptable compromise if you place significant weight on the rights of women at all. Dionne mentions a...

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