Attorney General Eric Holder Continues Extension of Federal Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples

by Bonnie Grabenhofer, NOW Executive Vice President

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor -- which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- the Obama administration took steps to extend federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Attorney General Eric Holder recently issued a memo that describes the steps the Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking to implement the Windsor decision and continue the extension of federal benefits to married same-sex couples -- the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

For example, same-sex spouses will be able to file for domestic support, including alimony and for DOJ programs that provide compensation to surviving spouses of public safety officers. Same-sex couples can file jointly for bankruptcy and they can invoke marital privilege freeing couples of the worry of having to incriminate their spouse during court proceedings. If they or their spouse are incarcerated, they can receive the same benefits as married straight couples -- such as exchanging correspondence and visitation rights.

Marriage of same-sex couples is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. This policy reiterates the Obama administration’s principle that, if a marriage was celebrated in a state where it is legal, it will be recognized by the federal government even if the couple moves to a state that does not recognize their marriage.

We applaud Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to ensuring equal treatment by recognizing valid marriages of same-sex couples as broadly as possible and using the tools and legal authority of the DOJ to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. Attorney General Holder’s historic directive to all members of the Department of Justice ensures that same-sex couples in valid marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex couples under federal law.

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From the NOW One Billion Rising team

by National Organization for Women

By Pat Reuss

The Washington, D.C. Rising group is working hard to gather students, survivors, advocates and policy makers into our circle of “risers.” NOW -- a leader in this effort – is in our nation’s capital gathering the hearts, minds and attention of policy leaders; this is no easy feat. That said, we are excited that there are a multitude of events throughout the metropolitan area. Productions of the Vagina Monologues abound on campuses and in the community and all will feature OBR’s “rising for justice” theme.

We have a “survivors quilt” which will be displayed on the national mall on V-Day with a soapbox and mike for survivors to speak out, rail, demand and heal.

We have a reception at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 11, featuring women Members of Congress and Eve Ensler herself. RSVP’s are flooding in, including those from Hill staff who work in offices of very conservative members. Violence and injustice crosses political lines.

On V-Day, we will be rallying at the front of the Supreme Court. We even have a poster-making party to prepare banners and slogans for this rally and will be showing the OBR film featured at Sundance. How could we not stand outside our highest court and demand justice? Judges all across our country are reducing sentences and denigrating survivors of sexual assault. Women are not in our Constitution, which is the greatest injustice of all. We have no mother root from which to grow and gain our equality, justice, safety, respect, and dignity.

And despite our massive and successful campaign last year to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, domestic and sexual violence still ravages our families, campuses, military troops, reservations, detention camps, prisons, workplaces and communities. Rape kits are still untested. Star athletes, ace pilots, priests, and other predators escape prosecution and punishment. Victims who report the crime of sexual violence still lose their jobs, their friends, their minds, and their souls.

So as we rise and join our voices and spirits in this worldwide explosion of caring, concern, anger and outrage, we must also make sure that we explode and expand our cocoon of solidarity and determination. We must include our sisters and brothers who live in poverty, who are disabled or in nursing homes and detention camps, who have been “disappeared” on reservations or in Juarez, or gunned down in their own homes or havens of escape.

That’s why were promising here in DC to enhance our demands for “justice” to include accountability, responsibility, liability and enforcement, asking our lawmakers, our media and entertainment industry, our churches and military and businesses and schools and courts and law enforcement agencies and medical providers, our fathers, partners and sons, to join us in this march for equality and justice and an end to sexual violence.

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Who wrote this script?

by National Organization for Women

On the media's sexist portrayal of Wendy Davis and Hillary Clinton
by Casey Farrington, Communications Intern

Boiling people down to tropes and stereotypes makes for a good story--but most people aren't so easily defined.

Take female politicians. Calling Wendy Davis a gold-digger or Hillary Clinton as a shrew can make for a good story, but it doesn't make for good journalism.

It's something many members of the media need to be reminded of.

Earlier this week, The Dallas Morning News published what is intended to be an expose on Davis' past, but what reads like a know-it-all arguing semantics.

Wendy said she was a divorced single teen mom living in a trailer park. Really she was a separated single teen mom who only lived in a trailer park for, like, two months.

C'mon, Wendy. Get real.

But these are the finer quibbles. The broader framing of the story makes the Texas state representative seem like a black widow of sorts, using men to satisfy her ambition.

That she divorced the man who paid for her education gets special attention: "Jeff Davis paid for her final two years at TCU... When she was accepted to Harvard Law School, Jeff Davis cashed in his 401(k) account and eventually took out a loan to pay for her final year there."

The supposed tragedy in it all is highlighted later, when Jeff is quoted, "It was ironic. I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left.”

Maybe I'm crazy, but I thought marriage was a partnership. You know, you've signed up with the government and maybe even God to file your taxes jointly and pick each other up from the airport. Part of that partnership might mean using family resources to advance one partner's education.

But earning a Harvard Law degree isn't Wendy's only offense. In what appears to have been a family decision, Jeff got full custody of their youngest child following the divorce.

Can't you see the scandal? When a woman doesn't get the kids, she's a bad mom. When a man doesn't, it's just another divorce.

Compounded with Wendy Davis' good looks, the suggestion seems to be that this succubus of a woman has used her feminine wiles to beguile men into giving her money and power. It's not really an original narrative, and it's not really reflective of the complex person Davis is.

The conservative attacks on Davis' story and character are so outrageous that one of Davis' Republican colleagues, Becky Haskins, commiserates saying, "If this involved a man running for office, none of this would ever come up."

Hillary Clinton received similar treatment, though visually, on her fifth cover of TIME this week. "Can anyone stop Hillary?" asks TIME, as a giant one-inch black heel peeking out of a navy blue pantsuit leg strides confidently, mindless of the tiny man hanging on for dear life. His 2014 campaign sign is forgotten behind him.

The cover is provocative, playing into stereotypes that have haunted Hillary throughout her public life. She has been slammed as mannish, shrewish, and emasculating. The blue pants-black heel pairing has been criticized as thoughtless fashion, as has her constant parade of pantsuits.

Though Clinton has been able to find humor in the portrayal, proclaiming herself a "pantsuit aficionado" (something I can only dream of being), it isn't very flattering. Like the story about Davis, this cover plays into sexist tropes.

Many people might find these complaints to be little fish in a sea of real issues, but sexism in the media is a real issue. The under-representation of women in our government is a real issue. And the two issues are connected.

The Women's Media Center released a study in 2012 that showed exactly how sexist attacks affect female candidates in the polls. Compared to other personal attacks, sexist attacks hurt her polling numbers more with every demographic.

Scandals also seem to affect women candidates more than the their male counterparts because women have a "virtue advantage"-- societal attitudes about how women are supposed to be tend to drive a collective belief that female candidates are more empathetic, value-driven, and trustworthy. This initial bump can lead to tragic downfall when fairly commonplace missteps happen during the campaign because voters feel betrayed. It can hurt to be placed on a pedestal.

The deadly effect of scandal on women is why the smear campaign being launched against Wendy Davis over relatively un-riveting revelations could be particularly damaging. It relies on sexist attitudes about the proper roles of women to attack Davis' character as though being ambitious and divorced is a crime, and it creates scandal where there is none.

A story is being written that isn't true. The characters are recognizable, the themes are familiar, but Davis and Clinton are straying from the script society has written for them as women. The mud being slung at them for it will be difficult for either to wash off.

This kind of barrier to representation is certainly part of the reason less than 20 percent of our national representatives are women. This lack of representation has been dire for women's interests. We need complicated, intrepid role models like Wendy Davis to both champion legislation important for women and, as President of NOW Terry O'Neill suggests, a living embodiment of why these rights are so important.

Sexist portrayals in the media have real consequences for how our government serves the 51 percent of the population that is female. If journalists really consider themselves integral in preserving democracy, then it's time to stop relying on sexist attitudes and write the story for what it is.

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Buffer Zones, Clinic Violence and the Supreme Court

by National Organization for Women

This week we celebrate the 41st anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. We do so by rallying for our beliefs and memorializing those we lost in days before legal abortion. This year, the anniversary of Roe was preceded by oral arguments at the Supreme Court on what we call, colloquially, the "buffer zone case". The desperate need for buffer zones around women's health clinics are a stark reminder to the violence perpetrated against service providers, clinic escorts, and patients. Without access, there can be no choice. - Caitlin Gullickson, Senior Communications Associate

The following blog post is by Casey Farrington, Communications Intern

It takes about ten seconds to walk through a 35-foot buffer zone. Probably faster if a crowd is yelling at you about your personal medical choices.

Apparently in those ten seconds, so-called "counselors" are losing a valuable opportunity to talk women out of getting abortions.

But it's important to remember that the Massachusetts law at the center of McCullen v. Coakley wasn't made because Eleanor McCullen was bothering clinic patients for 10 seconds too long. Massachusetts' buffer zone law was a response to a deadly act of domestic terrorism.

In 1994, a man opened fire on two different abortion clinics, killing two receptionists and wounding five others. His is an example of the violence women seeking healthcare at clinics contemplate every time they schedule an appointment. The fear may seem irrational to outsiders, but the threat is real.

In 2012 alone, abortion providers in the US and Canada faced 7 incidents of assault and battery and 5 cases of arson. Since 1977 there have been 8 murders at clinics, making the death threats clinics commonly receive more than just a nuisance.

So no, Ms. McCullen, you can't make your sweet, soft-spoken supplications within 35 feet of the Boston Planned Parenthood you frequent, because someone else might not be so sweet. With free range outside the clinic, protesters might block the entrance. They might harass, intimidate, or even physically assault a patient if given just ten more seconds.

Simply the prospect of unruly protestors blocking doors is enough to keep women away from clinics that, in addition to abortions, provide essential and sometimes life-saving procedures like mammograms and pap smears. These procedures can be uncomfortable enough without a crowd of people threatening you beforehand.

Going to the gyno shouldn't feel like Russian roulette.

Critics argue that this law violates anti-choicers' free speech. The same people are curiously silent when it comes to the buffer zones around funerals, voting booths, and the Supreme Court itself.

In 2012, Congress passed a law prohibiting picketers at military funerals two hours before and after the service. Protestors are also required to stay at least 300 feet away. The law was drafted to address Westboro Baptist Church protests outside military funerals; the group, though sickeningly vitriolic, is notably nonviolent.

In Massachusetts, campaigners must stay 150 feet away from polling locations on Election Day. Similar laws exist across the country.These laws help protect the sanctity and privacy of the voting process.

The Supreme Court prohibits protests anywhere on its property because the plaza isn't a traditional "public forum"--which is curious, because neither is the doorway to a doctor's office.

Reasonable limitations to American citizens' free speech already exist: you can't shout "fire!" in a crowded theater, you can't say "fuck" on network television, and you can't threaten someone's life or safety.

You can't even pontificate on Antonin Scalia's idiocy on the Supreme Court plaza. A 35-foot buffer zone around health clinics to protect the safety and peace of mind of women is at least as reasonable as that.

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Shift in SCOTUS Membership Could Spell Trouble for Abortion Clinics

by National Organization for Women

By Evan Stahr, Communications Intern

To combat harassment of women entering family planning and abortion clinics by anti-choice protesters, some municipalities and states have enacted “buffer zone” rules. In general, these prohibit protesters from approaching people entering a clinic.

These laws are seen by some to be an undue restraint on the free speech rights of protesters. In the 2000 case Hill v. Colorado, the Supreme Court disagreed.

The Colorado law in question prohibited a person from “knowingly approach[ing]” a non-consenting client “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person.”

As Justice John Paul Stevens writes in the majority opinion, it does not prevent protesting altogether; it simply prevents people entering a facility from being accosted with leaflets and misleading information.

The Court’s upholding of the law reflected two main ideas: a person’s right to consenting communication – or “the right to be left alone” in the words of Justice Brandeis – and the content-neutral nature of the statute.

Just as the people protesting outside have a right to their free speech, the people entering the facility have a right to refuse to listen to that speech and not have it pressed upon them. The Court weighed these two rights and determined that the Colorado statute struck an acceptable balance between them.

Furthermore, the Colorado statute barred anyone from accosting women entering a clinic. It did not limit, either explicitly or implicitly, its provisions to only anti-choice activists. As such, the majority of the Court found the statute content-neutral.

The minority of the Court, however, disagreed. These Justices – Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas – thought that the law went too far in restricting speech. In two separate dissents, the three argued that the law discriminated against anti-abortion protesters and that the government does not necessarily have a duty to protect citizens from non-consensual speech.

Justices Scalia and Thomas firmly sit in the conservative wing of the Court, and Kennedy is commonly seen as the swing vote between this wing and their liberal colleagues. Over the past decade, the conservative wing has unquestionably come to dominate the Court majority.

What does this shift mean for "buffer zone" laws? The Supreme Court will be hearing a challenge to a similar Massachusetts law in McCullen v. Coakley. The First Circuit Court of Appeals already affirmed that Massachusetts’ "buffer zone" law comports with the ruling in Hill.

The Supreme Court, however, could be poised to overturn this ruling. The dissenters in Hill are now likely to be in the conservative majority of the Court. Barring a surprising turn from a swing Justice, it seems as if Massachusetts women -- like so many others across the country -- will sadly have to face harassment when exercising their rights over their own bodies. In this case, the conservative Court would once again limit the freedoms of our nation’s women.

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