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A Victory for Marriage Equality in Hawai'i

Yesterday, a historic event occurred in Hawai'i. The state's governor, Neil Abercrombie, signed a law legalizing marriage between same-sex couples. The bill was recently approved by the House and Senate during a special legislative session called specifically to consider it. 

This victory was hard-earned. Advocates had championed marriage equality for the past 20 years, winning a case in 1993 [PDF] where a plurality of the Supreme Court of Hawai'i opined that prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples was a sex-based classification subject to strict scrutiny. The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed a lower court finding that, in fact, bans on marriage between same-sex couples violated the Equal Protection Clause of Hawai'i's Constitution. 

Unfortunately, voters subsequently opted to change the state Constitution to bar marriage between same-sex couples, and, in 1999, the Supreme Court of Hawai'i upheld the ban. Yesterday's ruling changes the legal landscape, and, effective December 2, state officials may perform same-sex marriages. 

This victory comes on the heels of a federal challenge to the ban. Read more »

A Long Awaited Change: You Can Get Fired for What?!

On Monday, the AFL-CIO added four very important words to their constitution: “gender identity” and “gender expression”. This change adds transgender individuals into the list of groups protected from discrimination in the union.

Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality are applauding the adoption of these new protections. “Labor has really been stepping up, and the AFL-CIO has been stepping up,” said Mara Keisling, executive director at the NCTE.

Keisling told Buzzfeed “One of the things I feel is really interesting about it is that words mean something. And the way this is worded, it really is why we do the antidiscrimination thing.” The amendment is called “Constitutional Amendment 9: Welcoming all Workers into our Movement.” Read more »

Women’s Equality Day: The Fight for Voting Rights Continues

August 26th marks Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment prohibiting U.S. citizens from being denied the right to vote on account of sex. The 19th amendment is widely known for giving women the right to vote. Read more »

Health Barriers and Breakthroughs for LGBT People and Individuals Living With HIV/AIDS

Last week, HHS released its third annual report outlining its accomplishments over the past year and its objectives for the coming year for improving the health of LGBT individuals, families, and communities. LGBT women in particular have reason to celebrate these accomplishments, but all women benefit from initiatives that seek to end discrimination and improve health outcomes and health care access.

For example, HHS regulations and guidance requiring equal visitation rights at hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid helps not only LGBT families but also anyone who has a family joined by bonds of affection and affinity rather than legal coupled status. Likewise, the ACA’s nondiscrimination protection (section 1557) provides important protections against discrimination for women and LGBT people alike.  HHS’s focuses in the upcoming year—implementing the ACA and the June 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—have important gains for women, LGBT people, and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Read more »

Real Benefits for Women Now That DOMA Has Been Struck Down!

Today, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which provided that only a marriage between a man and woman would be recognized under federal law. The Court found that this provision of DOMA violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. This decision is historic in its recognition that the Constitution provides important protection against discrimination against same-sex relationships. 

Moreover, this ruling will have a huge practical impact, providing access to important benefits previously denied to same-sex couples. As the Court wrote, "By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound." The practical impact of this victory is particularly significant for women. Women make up about 53% of LGBT adults and 51% of same-sex couples, and women in same-sex couples are more likely than men to marry their partners. In fact, the Williams Institute found that 62% of same-sex couples who married or acquired some other type of formal legal status were female, in the eight states for which data is available. 

Because women are more likely than men to be poor, female same-sex couples are at particular risk of financial instability. Read more »

The Student Non-Discrimination Act: Clarifying Protections for LGBTQ Students

When applying to college several years ago, I was privileged to be able to consider women’s colleges without being concerned that my gender identity would present any problem in the application process. This is because I am cisgender – a term used for people who have a gender identity that “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth. For transgender applicants like Calliope Wong, things were more complicated.

Calliope, who identifies as a transgender woman, applied with high hopes to Smith College, a women’s college in Massachusetts. Her application was returned to her, unreviewed, with a letter from the admissions office that because her federal financial aid paperwork indicated her sex as male, they could not accept her application.

When I think about Calliope, I also think about how much we need the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), a bill that was reintroduced today in the House of Representatives. Read more »

What Does Sex Discrimination Have to Do with Marriage Equality?

It's marriage equality week! Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which revoked same-sex couples' right to marry in California. The day after that, the Court will consider the constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which provides that same-sex married couples cannot be considered "married" under federal law. There are lots of reasons why we will be watching these cases closely. In human terms, both cases have could have a dramatic impact on the lives of same-sex couples. Indeed, they have the potential to be historic civil rights milestones — moments when the arc of the universe curves toward justice.  Read more »

Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation Should Be Presumed Unconstitutional

For forty years, the Supreme Court has held that the government may not impose laws that treat men and women differently based on an ‘interest’ in perpetuating traditional gender roles. The Court should also hold that the government may not decide who is permitted to marry based on traditional gender stereotypes about who men and women should love, the National Women’s Law Center argued in an amicus brief filed today in Hollingsworth v. Perry—the case in which the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that overturned the California Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry. Tomorrow, the Center will file the same brief in United States v. Windsor, the case before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bars the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples. Read more »

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act: Stopping Harassment on College Campuses

Today, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is introducing the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. This bill is an important step forward in stopping harassment on college campuses. It is named after the former Rutgers University student who, in 2010, tragically took his own life after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man and spread links to the webcam stream via Twitter.

The Act would require colleges and universities receiving federal aid to develop and distribute a campus harassment policy that would:

  • apply to harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion;
  • prohibit harassment of students, faculty, and staff;
  • describe the school’s harassment prevention programs;
  • explain the procedures that a student should follow if he or she is harassed; and
  • set out the procedures that the school will follow once an incident has been reported, including possible sanctions to be imposed in a disciplinary proceeding.

Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear DOMA and Prop 8 Marriage Equality Cases on Friday

This Friday, November 30, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the so-called marriage equality cases: suits challenging the legality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which defines marriage as between one man and one woman at the federal level, and Proposition 8, the California provision banning same-sex marriage there. The Court will announce next Monday whether it will hear any of those cases.

Each of the laws has been struck down by lower courts. The First and Second Circuit as well as a federal district court in the Northern District of California invalidated Section 3 of the DOMA under the federal equal protection clause, while the Ninth Circuit ruled that Proposition 8 was constitutionally impermissible for the same reason. Read more »