Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Major Strides for Marriage Equality

Last week, President Obama determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law enacted in 1996 that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, is unconstitutional. Although Obama opposes same-sex marriage, the president has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court.  His explanation is given in a statement by the Attorney General:

Given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.

Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

While determined unconstitutional by the president, the act will still be enforced unless and until Congress repeals it or if a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.” This may come sooner rather than later based on a report by the Huffington Post that Democrat Rep. Jerry Nadler and “quite a few co-sponsors” are planning to introduce the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

In addition to President Obama’s shifting views, on Thursday, the Maryland State Senate voted in favor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which grants same-sex couples in the state legal marriage recognition, while protecting the rights of religious institutions to handle marriage how they see fit.  The bill is expected to make its way to the House Committee this week.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 miles away in Hawaii, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill legalizing civil unions.  The law, effective January 1, 2012, allows couples, regardless of gender, to form civil unions which provide all the legal rights of marriage.  While civil unions, says Alan Spector, of Equality Hawaii, are not marriage,

They at least provide — on a state level — the concrete, tangible, legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. We still don’t have the social significance and the social meaning of marriage … but getting us to civil unions — psychologically and legally — is such a major barrier to cross.

While we’re thrilled with the strides are being made on behalf of gay rights, we’re disheartened that the issue of marriage equality is still met with strong resistance from politicians and lawmakers across the country.  To read the entire statement about the unconstitutionality of DOMA given by the Attorney General, click here.  To show your support for the President’s decision to determine DOMA unconstitutional, click here.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Sexual orientation

President Obama Proclaims January to be National Stalking Awareness Month

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, as proclaimed by President Barack Obama.

According to the White House Council on Women and Girls, 3.4 million adults in the U.S. were stalked in just one year, with young women ages 18-24 being the most heavily targeted demographic.

Stalking is addressed in the Violence Against Women Act, but National Stalking Awareness Month is an effort to increase the public’s understanding of the crime in order to prevent future cases. As White House Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal writes:

Despite its prevalence, stalking is little understood by many people, who may think only celebrities are stalked or that stalking isn’t harmful. On the contrary, stalking is a dangerous crime that takes a profound toll on its victims, who are often afraid for their safety and try repeatedly to escape their stalkers. Stalking can happen to anyone and most victims know their stalkers.

The current legislation links stalking to domestic violence and sexual assault, as 76% of female intimate partner homicide victims had been stalked by their intimate partners. Susan Carbon, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), commented on the federal efforts to make stalking a greater public concern: “The motto to ‘KNOW IT, NAME IT, AND STOP IT’ captures the focus of January’s awareness campaign…Educating ourselves and each other is an important step to encouraging and supporting victims to report the crime and stop the abuse.”

More information about stalking and National Stalking Awareness Month can be found here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Stalking

Obama Bans Abortion Coverage in High-Risk Pools

The Obama administration has imposed a near-total abortion ban in Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans (PCIPs), also known as high-risk pools. It is particularly upsetting that the ban affects those covered under PCIPs. Since women who will be covered under these plans are necessarily those who have a serious medical condition, they are “at a heightened risk for needing an abortion for health reasons when compared to the general population.”

PCIPs, which states had to implement by mid-June, are a temporary measure to ensure that those who are “medically uninsurable” receive insurance coverage. In 2014, insurance companies will be forced to sell coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, but in the meantime PCIPs will ensure that those with such ailments as diabetes or cancer have insurance.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the health care reform bill that passed through Congress earlier this year – only places restrictions on abortion coverage through the exchange. The act does not specify any restrictions on abortion coverage for PCIPs.  For this reason, a debate over whether or not PCIPs could provide abortion coverage ensued. The debate ended when the Obama administration announced that PCIPs will not provide abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or the endangerment of the life of the woman. The administration did not allow for any exceptions for state or private funds covering abortion through the plans.

Pennsylvania has played a central role in the debate. Pennsylvania approved a plan that potentially covered abortion. Though the plan specified that “elective” abortions would not be covered, the term “elective” was not defined and even referenced a statute that “allows an abortion if it is deemed ‘necessary’ by a physician based on ‘all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age) relevant to the well-being of the woman.’  The only situation deemed categorically unnecessary by the statute is sex selection.” Unfortunately, with the administration’s statement, Pennsylvania, like in all states, will not be allowed to provide abortions through its PCIP plan.

Though it is disheartening to hear that a pro-choice president agreed to limit women’s access to abortion, it may still be possible to reverse his decision. You can tell President Obama that limiting women’s access to a necessary medical procedure is unacceptable here.

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Filed under Abortion, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

President Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court

This morning, President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, Ms. Kagan will be the fourth woman to serve on the Court, and will bring the current number of female justices to three, the highest ever.

Ms. Kagan has never served as a judge, but she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in 1999 by President Clinton. At the time, she was serving as Associate White House Counsel. Her nomination, however, was thwarted by Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who didn’t schedule a hearing for her, which effectively ended her nomination.

Subsequent to working in the Clinton White House, Ms. Kagan presided as dean of Harvard Law School from 2003-2009. President Obama appointed her the first female Solicitor General in U.S. history in 2009. The Solicitor General represents the federal government in cases before the Supreme Court.

Ms. Kagan is generally regarded to be left-leaning and is openly pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights. During her time as dean at Harvard, she barred military recruiters from campus because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but allowed them to return because the school risked losing federal funds. In written answers to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary during her nomination to the Solicitor General position, she wrote that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, subject to various permissible forms of  state regulation.” Critics on the left distrust her views on executive power and indefinitely detaining foreign combatants suspected of supporting al-Qaeda.

As we wrote in another blog post, appointing and electing female judges matters. If Ms. Kagan is confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, she will join Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor in bringing women’s representation on the Court to 33%. While this is still far from a perfect representation of the female population on the bench, it would be a welcome step forward.

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Filed under Equality, Government, Reproductive Rights

The Relationship Between Oppressions: Silence Gives Consent

The unequal society that we live in runs on systems of prejudice against race, and gender; the systems are maintained and perpetuated by the domination and subordination of particular groups of people: males over females, whites over people of color.  When this way of life is challenged, conflicts are sure to occur, sometimes in the form of outright disrespect, which some believe has been exemplified in  South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson’s affront to President Obama.  The “You lie” outrage has led some, like former president Jimmy Carter, and New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, to argue that Wilson’s retort was painted all over with racist colors, while others such as David Brooks try to maneuver our focus away from race and claim that the conflict we see now is just an instance of the age-old struggle between the “progressive elite” and “rural white populists.”

Regardless, it is true that many in America still cannot accept the reality of being governed by a black president, and thus view the president very critically.  If he’s angry, he plays into racist stereotypes about black men.  If he’s too calm and collected, he’s labeled ineffective or a weak leader.  Uncannily, this treatment is akin to the oppression many women in the workplace, particularly those in high positions of power, experience as well.  Those who are assertive and aggressive are either classified as pushy, manipulative, power-hungry, or even trying to be like men; those who embrace “female attributes” are perceived as “too soft,” and unfit for management positions and high office.

No single human can be charged with the creation of oppressive systems that we live in today, because all these manifestations of oppression (as seen in racism and sexism) are products of socialization, meaning we have internalized all of these habits and thoughts that enforce the system of oppression since birth.  What we can do is build a “liberatory consciousness” which is actively alert and critical of prejudiced thinking and behavior.  As Maureen Dowd’s article quotes:

“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.  “In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’”

“Silence gives consent.”  We shall not be silent against oppressive acts of prejudice, whether they spring from bigotry based on race, sex, age, sexual orientation, ability, or anything else.

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Filed under Equality, The New York Times

Sotomayor Sworn In as First Latina Supreme Court Justice

Sonia Sotomayor made history on Thursday when she was confirmed as the Supreme Court’s newest justice by a 68-31 vote in the Senate, becoming the first Latina and only the third woman to sit on the Court. She was sworn in on Saturday by Chief Justice Roberts with her hand on a bible held by her mother, and was surrounded by about 60 guests, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, members of the Obama administration, friends, and family. “It is our nation’s faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now,” she said after being honored by the President at a White House reception. She continued:

I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life and the life we in  America are so privileged to lead…I am deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility of upholding our laws and safeguarding the rights and freedoms set forth in our Constitution. I ask not just my family and friends, but I ask all Americans to wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office.

It is thrilling to see Sotomayor added to the Court, and we applaud Pennsylvania Senators Casey and Specter (as well as the other 66 senators) for voting to approve her confirmation. We join the National Women’s Law Center in encouraging you to take a moment to thank the senators who made history and voted to confirm this exceptional woman. As President Obama remarked: “When Justice Sotomayor put her hand on that Bible and took that oath … we came yet another step to the more perfect union that we all seek.”

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Filed under Government, Supreme Court

President Obama on Covering Abortion Care in Public Health Plan

During an interview with Katie Couric on CBS Evening News, President Obama addressed concerns about his plan for health care reform and providing an option for a government-run health insurance plan. We have previously blogged about some legislators’ reluctance to include abortion care in a public plan, despite public opinion favoring it.

In the interview, Ms. Couric asked the president if he would support a government option that covered abortion. This was his response:

What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we’re still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

As you know, I’m pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.

The Hyde amendment has ensured that federal money hasn’t funded abortion care for low-income women (except in the cases of rape, incest or life endangerment, but not health endangerment) since 1976. This is a “tradition” that must end.

A new health plan must provide full coverage for women throughout their life cycle.  Safe abortion services have always been available to women who can afford to pay for them; poor women should not be denied the same.

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Filed under Abortion, Government, Reproductive Rights, Women's health