Monthly Archives: October 2010

Federal Judge Orders Military to Stop Enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

In 2004, the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian non-profit organization, brought an action against the United States and Secretary of Defense consisting of a facial challenge to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute (10 U.S.C. § 654) and its implementing regulations. The federal District Court for the Central District Court of California heard arguments on the case this past July.

Judge Virginia A. Phillips held that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional on September 9th.  Judge Phillips has now ordered that the United States military cease enforcement of this policy.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton. This law allows for service members to serve in the military, regardless of their sexual orientation, providing that they do not tell others that they are homosexual and do not engage in homosexual acts.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violated the service members’ right to due process under the Fifth Amendment and restricted free speech rights under the First Amendment. Judge Phillips agreed, finding that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” infringed upon the fundamental rights of service members.

Under the heightened scrutiny test applied by Judge Phillips, the defendants failed to meet their burden of showing that the policy was necessary to significantly further important government interests of military readiness and unit cohesion.  Additionally, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” challenged as an overbroad content-based speech restriction, did not survive First Amendment scrutiny because the government could not show that the regulation survived even the deferential review applied to speech in a military context. Judge Phillips wrote that the restriction under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on speech is “more than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest.”

The facial challenge of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law allowed Judge Phillips to invalidate the statute and provide broad injunctive relief. Although the defendants argued to keep some parts of the law in place, Judge Phillips found that the “unconstitutional nature of the Act permeates the entire statute. Thus, total invalidation is the narrowest remedy available for the relief sought here.” Judge Phillips permanently enjoined the United States and the Secretary of Defense from enforcing or applying the policy.

In addition, she ordered that any “investigation, discharge, separation, or other proceeding” executed under the policy be suspended and discontinued, immediately. Phillips has also granted the Log Cabin Republicans the right to apply for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 and to file a motion for the costs of the suit.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will appeal the October 12th injunction or the district court’s ruling on the constitutionality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” However, President Obama has said in the past that he opposes the policy.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Military, Sexual orientation

Happy Blogiversary to Us!

Two years ago today, we launched the Women’s Law Project blog with the goal of writing about current events in women’s rights. Since that time, we’ve published 352 posts by staff members and interns, with our most-covered topics including abortion and reproductive rights, LGBT rights, Title IX and women’s sports, employment, and rape and sexual assault.

Some fun facts about our blog:

  • The first post was about a three-part series published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on women and the military.
  • Our busiest day was September 23, 2009, when we wrote about major college football’s only female referee, Sarah Thomas.
  • Three staff members and at least half a dozen interns have contributed their time and efforts to writing our posts.

Our blogiversary is the perfect time to remind you that you can subscribe to our blog in several ways:

And finally, thanks to everyone who reads the WLP blog and shares our posts with friends. You have helped us make this blog a success, and we’re looking forward to many more blogiversaries in the future!

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Clinic Violence Update: A Federal Grand Jury Investigates the Larger Agenda

Scott Roeder has been sentenced to life in prison for killing abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009, but a federal grand jury is investigating the murder’s possible connection to a larger plan, as reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

An anonymous federal law enforcement official recently commented on the matter: “Yes, there is a grand jury investigation. I can tell you that there are several attorneys from Washington, D.C., looking into this matter and are looking into the broader case than just the actual incident that occurred in Wichita.”

Dr. Tiller’s murder is indeed part of a larger faction of anti-choice activism in the U.S. As we discussed last year, Dr. Warren Hern, director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, has received numerous death threats and is followed to and from work by federal marshals.

There are varying degrees of severity when it comes to direct anti-abortion action – bullying and insulting women outside of clinics under the guise of “sidewalk counseling” and holding gruesome signs are among the most common and least violent – but threats against the lives of abortion providers have become a widespread tactic that not only frightens and intimidates doctors, but all too often leads to their murders.

Since 1993, when Dr. David Gunn was killed outside a clinic in Pensacola, Florida, there have been several major acts of violence against clinics and abortion providers, five of which resulted in the deaths of one or more people. Another doctor was killed in the same Florida city in 1994. Clinics in Austin, Amherst, NY, Birmingham, and the Boston area have been targets of severe violence, with bombs or guns characterizing each event.

As evidenced by a number of extremist attempts to harm clinics over the course of the past 17 years, it’s clear that these are not isolated incidents that have no effect on the anti-choice movement. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act has helped curb the blockades and clinic invasions that were all too common prior to 1994 (when it was passed), but has not completely prevented extremists from setting off bombs or tracking down providers outside of their clinics and shooting them. A life prison sentence doesn’t seem to deter some abortion opponents’ desires to kill doctors and others involved at clinics, either.

In Pennsylvania, reproductive health care facilities have been firebombed, blockaded, and severely vandalized. They have been threatened with death, targets of fake anthrax attacks, bomb scares, and harassment at their homes, neighborhoods, and churches. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice brought a FACE Act case against anti-abortion protester John Dunkle, who posted on the Internet the names, addresses, and photos of PA abortion providers, complete with detailed instructions on how to kill them. Although he has been complying with the injunction that removed all of the information from the Internet, Dunkle continues to picket PA abortion providers at clinics and their homes.

The reported grand jury investigation follows U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s crackdown on clinic violence that we wrote about this past August.

If you’re interested in more information about clinic violence, you can watch “The Assassination of Dr. Tiller,” a documentary narrated by Rachel Maddow that will air on MSNBC on October 25th at 9 PM.

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Filed under Abortion, Women's health

U.S. Department of Labor Amends the Definition of “Parent” for Medical Leave Purposes

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Labor expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act, making the definition of “parent” significantly more inclusive. The decision came from Nancy J. Leppink, the deputy administrator for the department’s Wage and Hour Division, who asserted that “neither the statute nor the regulations restrict the number of parents a child may have under FMLA.”

As a result of the ruling, the words “son and daughter” in the FMLA can now be interpreted as a “biological, adopted or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward or a child of a person standing in loco parentis.” This means that whoever cares for a child on a daily basis is eligible for unpaid medical leave, regardless of the person’s legal obligation to the child. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Leppink’s ruling acknowledges that more people care for children than just biological parents.

A win for non-traditional families in general, the ruling is especially important to same-sex partners who relationships are not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act. The amended law also makes it possible for stepparents, grandparents, or other relatives or guardians who are otherwise responsible for a child’s daily well-being to be recognized as parents without engaging in a formal adoption procedure.

“What does this mean in the real world? It means children can get the support and care they need from the people who love them and are responsible for them,” said Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor. “It means we recognize the importance of a partner who shares in the parenting of a child in a same-sex relationship.”

However, as Ms. Magazine wrote in June, same-sex parents still can’t take time off to care for one another when they are ill – the ruling just applies to taking care of a sick child. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York wants to further expand FMLA regulations to allow medical leave to take care of a same-sex partner. She introduced a bill that would modify the definition of “spouse” to include “a same-sex spouse as determined under applicable state law” – an amendment that works within the confines of DOMA, but would improve conditions for same-sex couples with state-recognized unions.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Parenthood

Senate Bill 890 Passes PA Senate Unanimously – Contact Your Rep Today!

The Pennsylvania Senate approved Senate Bill 890 by a vote of 48-0 on Tuesday, giving a boost to this key legislation that would help parents, students and gender equity advocates determine whether Commonwealth middle schools and high schools are treating girls and boys equally in athletics programs.

SB 890 is similar to the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which requires colleges and universities to annually report basic information about their athletics program, including the number of male and female participants and financial and coaching information. The EADA was passed in 1994 and has been a great tool for gender equity advocates to assess how colleges and universities are treating women’s sports programs.

Currently, three other states – Kentucky, Georgia and New Mexico – have legislation like SB 890 on the books.

This legislative session is rapidly drawing to a close, however: only eight session days remain for the PA House, and any legislation that isn’t passed by the end of the session will die. Earlier this year, the House Education Committee approved the House version of the bill, HB 2061.

This is common sense legislation that simply requires schools to disclose basic information to parents, students and community members. You can help advance gender equity in Pennsylvania’s schools by contacting your state representative today and telling them that you support HB2061 and SB890. Visit the legislature’s website to find your representative, or contact the Women’s Law Project and we’d be happy to assist you. You can find talking points on the legislation here (PDF).

During the 2008-09 school year, there were 24,794 fewer athletic opportunities available to female high school students than to male high school students in Pennsylvania high schools. And taken as a whole, female student athletes in Pennsylvania get fewer opportunities to play high school sports and are given inferior equipment, uniforms, fields, facilities, coaching, publicity, scheduling, and transportation than male athletes. The time to act is now.

Don’t let the clock run out on equality!

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Filed under Equality, Girls, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sports, Title IX