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TV Recognizes the “Modern Family”—Why Not Governments?

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Modern Family title

The definition of family shown on television is far more progressive than the one understood by US law.

I don’t watch Modern Family, the prime-time sitcom depicting “non-traditional” — e.g., same-sex, interracial, and inter-generational — couples. Still, I’m struck by how fast family realities change and how slowly laws and societal perceptions about what’s “right” reflect those changes.

The couples depicted in Modern Family were surely seen by society at large as more unusual in 2009, when the show first aired, than even just five years later. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering two cases that might pave the way for federal benefits for same-sex couples, the number of interracial marriages is steadily growing, and the combination of reproductive technologies, longer life-spans, and the normalization of serial monogamy has taken age somewhat out of the equation when it comes to forming a family.

Even so, real-life individuals in same-sex couples, or those who live with someone of a different race or generation from themselves, often face daily struggles to protect their families from legal uncertainty and publicly articulated disgust. Depending on where we live, our intimate lives and families may be subject to criminal sanctions, unequal legal protections, scrutiny, shaming, and belittling.

Often, the protection of our families in law — while welcome — does not mean we are immune to community shaming and violence. In Latin America, for example, a wave of new marriage equality laws has not yet had an impact on pervasive community violence against LGBTI individuals. And though it is more than 45 years since the Supreme Court invalidated the prohibition of interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, prejudices against interracial couples — in particular where one of the partners is Black — are expressed frequently in social media and in some cases result in discrimination.

This tug-of-war between perceptions, laws, and reality expresses itself clearly where courts have to decide to what extent legislators get to put their own — or their constituents’ — prejudices before principles of equality and facts about child welfare.

This week, the European Court on Human Rights issued a ruling in one such case. The court held that Austria had violated human rights by denying two lesbian women a proper evaluation of their adoption petition. One of the women had petitioned to adopt the biological son of her female partner, a child they both had been parenting since infancy.

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Anti-Gay/Anti-Choice Kansas Democrat Challenged in Primary by Openly Gay Man

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kari Ann Rinker for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

“Morality” used to be the established code word for anti-gay and anti-choice discrimination. It seems that “morality” has run it’s course, however, and it is now time for new and improved phraseology to push the anti-choice, anti-gay theological agenda in Kansas. The new catch phrase for discrimination is “religious freedom” and the queen bee of spreading the pollination of religious freedom in Kansas is Representative Jan Pauls.

Erich Bishop

Erich Bishop, Kansas challenger (Photo: Erich Bishop campaign)

Representative Pauls is another one of those anti-choice Democrats that pervades the Kansas political landscape. She has served in the Kansas Legislature since 1992 and has used her time there to sponsor numerous anti-choice bills. She wrote a law prohibiting same sex marriage in the state, backed the successful state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, and blocked the attempted repeal of Kansas’ antiquated sodomy ban.

Religious freedom has been creating a lot of buzz nationally and red-state legislatures and red-state politicians have latched on to this discriminatory defense as the life preserver that might “save” them from the evils of Obamacare. Pauls has provided not only her vote for two Kansas bills based upon the false premise of “religious freedom,” but also her strong words of favor. She heralded the Kansas legislature’s so-called “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” and the expansion of the existing “Conscience Refusal Act,” which both gained momentum from “Obama outrage” over contraception care afforded under the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Pauls resides in Hutchinson, Kansas. Pauls’ stance on these “religious freedom” initiatives may garner her usual votes and favor from many of her constituents at large in this conservative Kansas community, but in this election cycle there is a question as to whether or not Pauls will earn a place on the general election ballot. This time around, Jan Pauls and her “religious freedom” have earned her a Democratic primary opponent, and that primary opponent is gay.

Erich Bishop is a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition, a gay rights organization that has waged a full on political war against Pauls for her public statements, votes and actions against the gay community. Pauls, for example, made the following comment on February 20, 2012:

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State Lawmakers Tell Teachers What They Can and Can’t Say

7:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Over the last few weeks, Tennessee lawmakers have been working on legislation that would effectively make it illegal for teachers to talk about homosexuality in the classroom before ninth grade. The laws states that “No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality” in grades K-8. While they went back and forth with amendments and counter amendments, the Senate education committee ultimately passed the bill which has been proposed by its sponsor for each of the last six years. The full Senate will likely vote on the measure this week or next. 

Not surprisingly, some people applauded the bill for keeping “inappropriate” topics away from young children while others called it censorship and discrimination. Some people in the state questioned why the bill was necessary as, according to one lawmaker, the “existing laws already prohibits such instruction by deeming it a misdemeanor to teach any sex education that is not part of the ‘family life curriculum’ adopted by the state Board of Education.”  Many just wondered how such a law could work and why a state legislature would get that intimately involved in what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom.

But we shouldn’t be shocked or even surprised by this. State lawmakers have had their hands and voices in sex education classes for years.  In truth, it is not entirely outside their purview to do so.  While specific decisions about curricula and lecture topics are often left up to local school boards and even principals and teachers, laws in most states set the stage for sexuality education. States routinely tell schools what they have to teach and what they can’t teach. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20 states and the District of Columbia mandate both sex education and HIV education and 12 states mandate HIV education alone (interestingly, no state mandates just sex education).  In addition, 29 states say that if such education is taught it must meet certain requirements such as being age-appropriate and/or medically accurate. 

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“Freedom:” The Right of Religious Fundamentalists to Discriminate Against Everyone Else

6:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Conscience clauses. They practically have the term “slippery slope” built right into their definition. Anti-choicers started by pushing the idea that pharmacists shouldn’t have to sell contraception if it somehow violates their heartfelt repulsion to what they believe is unapologetic sluttiness.  But did anyone think it would stop there?  Once the idea got loose that you have a right to not do your job if you disapprove of a client’s sex life, the doors were thrown wide open to all sorts of discrimination against customers, followed by a bout of acting like a martyr if you were pushed to do your actual job.

Well, the movement towards discrimination based on sexuality took a blow last week, when a federal judge ruled in favor of a counseling program that ejected a student who refused to do her job if her clients are gay. To no one’s great surprise, conservative pundits are telling their followers that this means that students in general are now subject to being expelled for holding bigoted beliefs they excuse through Christianity.  This argument is, of course, nonsense. People are allowed to believe whatever bigoted things they want about their fellow human beings. What they aren’t allowed to do is act in bigoted ways contrary to their profession and expect to keep their jobs, a much different thing. A counselor who privately believes homosexuality is a sin but who manages to treat gay clients with respect and according to science-based guidelines (i.e. doesn’t try to convince clients they can change sexual orientation) would have no problem with these restrictions.

This ruling comes at a time when the “conscience clause” nonsense is being pushed hard by the right.  For instance, the misleadingly named American Center for Law & Justice is suing the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) for firing Edwin Graning because he refused to do his job, which is to take passengers where they want to go.  In this case, Graning refused to take passengers to the local Planned Parenthood.  Graning’s argument is full of self-serving pity—he’s claiming discrimination for his religious beliefs—but the only people that were discriminated against were his passengers that he refused to serve because of what he believed about their private sexual choices.

As Kyle at Right Wing Watch documented, Graning’s story is full of holes. Graning tried to spin the usual faux-concern-for-women tale, claiming that his wife called the Planned Parenthood in question and received a recorded message directing women with abortion complications to 911. The implication is that he was some hero, saving his passenger from certain death by abortion by refusing to take her to Planned Parenthood.  Of course, it was quickly revealed that the actual recording is what you’d expect, some boilerplate about setting an appointment or volunteering time or money—nothing about abortion, and certainly nothing suggesting that their patients routinely end up in E.R. with Planned Parenthood washing their hands of them.  Since abortion is relatively safe, and providers work with hospitals in the very rare case of emergencies, this is to be expected.

Of course, there’s no reason to think women who requested a ride to Planned Parenthood should be assumed to be wanting an abortion instead of far more common services such as cancer screening or contraception counseling.  Unless, of course, you’re a self-dramatic right wing fundamentalist looking to mislead people about the realities of women’s health care in order to separate women from it.

Despite his struggles with basic honesty, Graning is claiming that he’s a Christian and therefore he has a special right not to do his job. This is the right wing argument for religious freedom. It should be immediately obvious that their definition of “religious freedom” doesn’t apply to people who don’t practice their particular brand of Christianity. For instance, ACLJ believes that women whose religion doesn’t forbid abortion, contraception, or basic reproductive health care should not be allowed to use the same government services as everyone else, such as the bus system. Those women deserve to be treated as second-class citizens because they have the wrong religious beliefs.

In case the claims of “religious freedom” don’t seem empty enough on the surface, consider the case of Muslim cab drivers in Minnesota who refused to transport customers carrying bottles of alcohol, in most cases because they picked it up from the duty-free store.  The cabbies other complaints of bad working conditions certainly deserve consideration, but as in most cases, the burden of not discriminating based on religious belief falls on those providing the public service.  In case, that means that Muslim cab drivers have a duty not to discriminate against those who are behaving peacefully but don’t share their anti-alcohol beliefs.

But since conservatives believe that religious freedom means the right to refuse to do your job when you differ with your clients on a matter of religious dogma, they hopped right to defending the Muslim cabbies, right?

Of course not. On the contrary!  The case was used to raise alarms about the non-existent threat that “shari’a law” was going to supplant our very Constitution, with its prohibitions against the state favoring religion over non-religion, or favoring one religion over another.

So, if the state enforces the right of fundamentalist Christians to discriminate on the basis of religion against people who don’t share their beliefs, that’s “freedom.”  Anyone else who discriminates against clients is a threat to the very same freedom.  Basically, the words “religious freedom,” the mouths of social conservatives, mean protecting the right of fundamentalist Christians to persecute and discriminate against everyone else.

Let’s hope more judges follow the example set by the judge in the East Michigan University case, and see the fundamentalist claims for “religious freedom” as the dishonest attempts to deprive everyone else of rights that they are.     

Kagan Hearings Day Three: Coburn’s Freedom Train, Abortion and Military Recruitment

7:21 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The third day of the Kagan hearings included questioning on everything from the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to education spending to abortion. But the Republicans stuck with one issue in particular: the fact that Harvard Law School abided by its own anti-discrimination policy to ensure that any potential employer recruiting at the law school did not discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or race. The specifics in question had to do with Kagan, who was the Dean of Harvard Law School at the time, deciding to protect the rights of LGBT students to not be discriminated against by the United States military through the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Kagan reminded senators and representatives that, in fact, the U.S. military was wholly able to recruit – even at Harvard Law School – just not through the law school’s Office of Career Services.

Still, Senator Graham (R-SC) had a bizarre analogy for Kagan, asking her, "If the Catholic Church wanted to recruit from the law school would you prevent them because they don’t have female priests?"

Though the committee seemed not to be able to let this line of questioning go, both Democrats and Republicans calling into the C-span phone lines expressed annoyance with the committee’s insistence on pursuing. Kagan, however, announced, "The anti-discrimination policy regarding military recruitment at Harvard Law School was meant to support LGBT students."

Women’s health and rights popped up, of course, and Republicans wasted no time in getting to the heart of the matter by bringing up the (still, after all the years we’re using this meaningless, politically charged term!) partial-birth abortion ban and it’s related Supreme Court case which upheld the law, Gonzalez v. Carhart.

Kagan called this an "incredibly difficult issue" but did not waver from what she termed her responsibility to the American public and President Clinton during her time at the Clinton White House, when she was charged with helping inform and provide, according to her, "the best medical evidence on the issue" to President Clinton regarding the partial-birth abortion ban. Kagan told Senator Orrin Hatch, during his line of questioning, that the president believed partial-birth abortion should be banned, available only when necessary to save the life of or prevent serious health consequences to the mother. In gathering "the best medical evidence possible," she relayed, to President Clinton, a memorandum from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) on the issue. In question, during the hearings on day three, was the fact that the initial draft of the memo included only one of the two key ACOG statements, and Kagan’s discussions with ACOG to ensure both key statements were included.

ACOG’s statements on this particular abortion procedure were two-fold. The first being that, in ACOG’s view, "they couldn’t think of a circumstance in which this procedure was the only procedure that could be used, but second, on the other hand, that they could think of circumstances in which it was medically the best or most appropriate procedure with the least risk in terms of preventing harm to the woman’s health."  However, when the memo was offered to the White House initially, it included only the fact that it wasn’t the only abortion procedure available, without mentioning that crucial "other" fact – that it may be the one that actually prevents harm from being done to the woman.

Everyone from Senator Graham to Senator Coburn pressed Kagan on why she asked ACOG to revise the memo to include both statements, attempting to get at an instance where Kagan’s personal belief system "interfered." Senator Graham called this,"…advocating for how partial-birth abortion would be communicated to President Clinton." While Senator Coburn pressed Kagan on the fact that the memo came directly from her and so, it was assumed, reflected her views on the issue. Kagan noted that, in fact, her only desire was to ensure the ACOG memo accurately reflected both of their positions in regards to partial birth abortion, "I was concerned that ACOGs language did not accurately reflect what their views on the issue were."

In a moment of pure, unadulterated irony (one apparently missed-by-Hatch), Hatch was actually stunned by what he saw as "the politicization of science…an instance where political objective trumps a medical organization left to its own scientific inquiry." 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) offered a few moments of clarity when it was her turn to question Gen. Kagan. Responding to earlier statement by Senator Coburn as he waxed nostalgic about a time, 30 years ago, when Americans were apparently "more free," Klobuchar reminded Coburn and the American public of a few quick facts:

  • In 1980, while the number 1 song was Blondie’s "Call Me", do you know how many women sat on the U.S. Supreme Court? Zero.
  • Thirty years ago, when "Americans were more free", how many women were sitting on the judiciary committee? Zero.
  • Thirty years ago, when "Americans were more free", how many women were in the United States Senate? One. 

In fact, Klobuchar reminds Coburn, "freedom is in the eye of the beholder." It was a good opening, however, for Klobuchar to question Kagan on her time as Dean of Harvard Law School and what Kagan might do to address disparities for women in this country. Kagan admitted the disparities at Harvard and at law schools around the country; namely that while 50 percent of the student body at the law school was/is made up of females, very few actually assume leadership roles.

Kagan admitted, "In law firms, women don’t have the kind of – there’s not the diversity that anybody would want. I think people are trying hard to make that diversity happen. It’s not a matter of bad faith but I think there are structural obstacles. It’s hard to balance work and family, harder than it is for a man. We need to enable women to manage those balances, the desire to have a fulfilling professional life and a wonderful family life, to manage the balance better and create the structures to enable them to do so."

(VIDEO) Conservative State Senator Supports Better Sex Ed in Utah

6:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Senator Steve Urquhart for RH Reality Check – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The documentary video included with this article was produced by STV Productions.

My legislative district in St. George, Utah is conservative, and I am conservative. Yet, I am running legislation to promote contraceptive education. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Though we can — and should — wrestle to our heart’s content on issues of correct curriculum, three facts remain at the end of the day, independent of political affiliation: humans like sex, some kids are going to have sex, and information can avert tragedy. My task in working with a conservative district in a conservative state is to implement policy that balances those three realities with strong public preferences for local control and an abstinence message to youth.

As the legislative process kicks, pokes or promotes my bills, I realize that it is moving my legislation where it needs to be. Those prompts, as well as the end result, would be different in different states. And that’s appropriate. It leads to a representative and responsive government.

Here’s the story of how sex ed has been kicked, poked and promoted in Utah.

Last year, Rep. Lynn Hemingway, a Democrat, ran a sex ed bill. The system told Lynn that he needed Republican involvement in a legislature with Republican supermajorities in the House and in the Senate. On a different bill — involving expedited partner therapy for chlamydia and gonorrhea — the process told me that I needed to pay more attention to the sexual health of Utah’s teens.

My immediate involvement in sex ed was to augment local control elements — with districts, instead of the state, determining how instruction would be delivered. Even then, the process told us that we didn’t move enough toward local control. Local districts would need to have more control in preparing instructional materials.

The process taught us that talismanic language in existing code cannot be touched. Thus, SHALL NOT language has to be preserved regarding things that can’t be taught (e.g., same-sex relationships and kama sutra stuff); the key is to clarify that, even with those restrictions, contraceptive education does not violate state policy and curriculum.

Put it all together, and I believe we will pass a bill that improves existing sex ed instruction (where 36 out of 40 districts claim to include contraceptives discussions) by requiring districts to publicly examine sex ed instruction every three years (thus making sure actual instruction is matching policy) and by clarifying that contraceptives can be discussed in Utah classrooms. Importantly, districts also will be required to notify parents that instructional materials on contraceptives have been prepared by the state and the district, if the district desires. Parents, being in charge of the sex educations of their children, can review and discuss those materials with their children. It is simply a tool that parents can utilize.

I believe that Utah will pass legislation that empowers parents and children regarding sexual matters. I believe that every state can get there, by pointing the passion that parents have on the issue of sex ed toward the healthy discussions that can occur in legislative bodies honestly looking for solutions to society’s complex problems.