Thursday, February 24, 2011

Three Steps Ahead for Marriage Equality, Countless Steps Back on Reproductive Rights

Later today, the Maryland Legislature is likely to pass marriage equality legislation for same sex couples.

Yesterday, Hawaii's governor signed a same sex union bill, giving same sex couples all the rights of marriage in the state. A few weeks ago, the Illinois governor need similarly.

And, the President of the United States told the U.S. Justice Department to stop defending DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, even as it continues for some inexplicable reason to defend "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the courts following the signing of its repeal.

I'm celebrating all of those.

But, I can't help wonder how it is that these bills are moving ahead with such alacrity while at the same time attacks on family planning and abortion are at the highest levels I can remember in my 35 years in this field. As I'm sure you know, last week, the House of Representatives voted to defund the federal family planning program, eliminate most funding for international family planning, and specifically ban Planned Parenthoods from federal funds. (I wrote about support for domestic and international family planning in last week's Washington Post.)

People across the country are speaking out against these cuts, and you can add your name to a petition that is receiving tens of thousands of signatures. Rallys are planned for many cities, including New York City this weekend, and I intend to be there.

I'm struggling to understand how rights for lesbian and gay people are advancing while reproductive rights for women are so precarious. Is it that the religious right has abandoned their fight against homosexuality because they know that the culture has tipped and they will lose? Is it that reproductive rights are taken for granted as they've been in place for the past 40 years so the activists have not made inroads into the mainstream and perhaps these latest assaults will be a needed wake up call? Is it the difference between state laws and legislatures which vary widely and the U.S. House which has so precariously tipped conservative? Is it that gay votes are seen as more important than those of women? Is it that in a troubled economic time, poor women are seen as marginal? Is it that the LGBT movement is better organized and better funded?

It could be all of this. I'd like to know your thoughts.

What I do know is that sexual justice shouldn't be siloed. That at its core my commitment is to sexual justice for all -- and that includes women, LGBT people, sexuality education, family planning and abortion access, and marriage equality. I hope you will join me in speaking out for all our rights.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day -- A Little Bit of History

In some ways, Valentine’s Day is a perfect holiday for me. The legend of Valentine’s Day is unique among secular holidays in its connection of religion and sexuality. Its history is both pagan and early Christian.

The Roman festival “Lupercalia” was a pagan holiday in mid February to assure the fertility of both women and crops. Young men pulled slips of paper with the names of young women out of boxes to learn who would be their sexual companions for the next year, sort of an early

In 496 c.e., Pope Gelasive turned the festival into a minor Christian holiday, naming it for St. Valentine. The names of saints replaced the names of young women on the slips of paper in the boxes, and men were supposed to emulate the saint on the slip they had chosen for the next year. (One can only imagine this must have been a hard sell after the previous custom!)

St. Valentine was a priest in the third century (or maybe a composite of several priests.) The Emperor Claudius had outlawed marriage for young men so they could serve in his military without family obligations. The priest Valentine continued to marry young couples in secret. Discovered, he was sent to jail and sentenced to death for disobeying the Emperor. The legend continues that he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, and wrote her a note, signed “From Your Valentine”, prior to his beheading on February 14, 270. This of course was when priests were still allowed to marry.

Quite a history for a day that's now celebrated with Hallmark cards and boxes of candy. It's early pagan origins remind us of the centrality for many people of having a sexual partner in their life. St. Valentine's story reminds us that marriage was once not available to young men, and that he began his own marriage equality movement in protest.

I like that so many sexual justice organizations celebrate Valentine's Day as a day of justice. It's Freedom to Marry week, it's Standing on the Side of Love Sunday, it's even national condom week.

And it's a day and a week to celebrate love -- all the types of love that grace our lives. For those of us with a partner, it's a time for a "recommitment ritual", a time to remember what makes our relationship special and holy. For those of us with children, it's a time to remember our special bonds of love. For all of us, it's a time to be grateful for the people who we love and the people who love of us, just the way we are.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Dear GOP: Rape is Rape. No Force Needed.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and 173 co-sponsors introduced a heinous bill, "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."

It goes further than any other previous legislative proposal to make abortion less accessible, less available, especially to low income women. Jessica Arons from the Center for American Progress presents a comprehensive review of what's so wrong with this legislation at

There are so many reasons to oppose this bill, but it's the provision that redefines rape that has me the most upset. For decades now, there has been an agreement even by the most anti-choice legislators that poor women who become pregnant because of rape or incest should have access to abortion services.

Rep. Smith and his friends have now decided that only women who are victims of "force-able rape" would be "worthy" of being able to have an abortion. Not women who were coerced, not women who are minors and victims of statutory rapes, not women who were drugged -- just those who are forced.

This issue isn't just political to me, it's personal. I was date raped twice as a young woman. There were no guns or knives --just men who didn't listen as I yelled "no" and went ahead anyway. Back in the mid 70's, there wasn't a term for date rape; in fact, I had several older women at the time tell me that there wasn't anything to be done, it just happened some time to women who were alone with men who didn't listen. I was fortunate that I didn't become pregnant either time -- and I've been happy that on today's high school and college campuses young people are routinely taught about date rape and that "no means no."

And so, I am furious that Rep. Smith has decided that once again it's not rape unless there's force involved. I'd like the GOP to listen to those of us who are survivors who will tell them that the only definition of rape is sex without consent of both partners - no adjectives involved.