Gender & Sexuality

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...

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. 

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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...

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