Speaking of Women's Rights: 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Some big wins, one frustrating loss, and so much more to do!

It’s that time of the year. No, not Bowl Game time: rather, it's time to obsessively review all the changes, advances, defeats, seized and missed opportunities that we experienced this year.  I’ve been reading past resolutions and plans and “what-ifs” to see what can be learned from them to make 2013 an even better year.  If that’s possible. 

Be it RESOLVED: that civil marriage is a fundamental right, and that all loving, committed couples in Washington (and throughout the country) are entitled to share in the rights, the responsibilities, and the protections of marriage.  Whew! Cross that one off, at least in Washington.  Mind you, the resolution dates from 2004, but after all, eight years is not that long in the struggle for justice.  We’ll take it.

We are DETERMINED to protect the right of all women to choose how to form and maintain their families.  At Legal Voice, this is an ongoing resolution, a fight that seems never to end. In 2012, we were able to take a firm, triumphant stand alongside Jennie Linn McCormack, an Idaho woman who was prosecuted for ending her pregnancy by using medication she obtained over the Internet.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial court ruling that Ms. McCormack was likely to succeed in her case arguing that the law prohibiting a woman from terminating her own pregnancy was unconstitutional; we’re proud to have filed a persuasive amicus brief in the case. 

We INSIST that women – indeed, all patients – have the right to obtain their needed and lawful medications.  Okay, we didn’t quite succeed in this one.  In fact, it’s probably the biggest disappointment we’ve had in years.  In February, a federal judge ruled that anti-choice pharmacists and pharmacies could refuse to provide emergency contraception to women.  With all appropriate respect to the courts and the rule of law, we think the judge was wrong, and we’re not stopping until we prevail.

We DEMAND that women have the right – and the practical ability – to work and to care for their family members and themselves, and the ability to escape family violence.  That’s why we have been fighting for paid family leave for many years, and why we are so proud to be part of the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce, which persuaded the Seattle City Council to adopt a Paid Sick and Safe Days ordinance covering employees who work in the city.  And we’re not stopping there: we’ll be in Olympia advocating for paid family leave, so all workers in Washington can leave violent situations and care for their family members without risking their jobs.

We ENDEAVOR to help women and men who have nowhere else to turn understand their legal rights and have some ability to represent themselves in court if that is their only option.  We’ve been doing that for more than thirty years, and we know we’ve made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people. Whether the issue is marriage for same sex couples, the rights of workers, or simply how to navigate the legal system, Legal Voice provides information that people can understand and use.  

Establishing new law, enforcing the laws already on the books, educating people about the law and their rights – in 2012, we at Legal Voice made great strides with all three strategies.  Is there more we can accomplish? Absolutely. Are we prepared to fight on?  Without question.  As for topping this year – well, stay tuned, because we have plans. BIG PLANS.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Supreme Court Will Review Marriage Equality Cases in 2013

by Caitlin Zittkowski

Many Washington residents are still basking in the post-election glow, soaking up the flood of good feelings brought on by the state's recognition of marriage equality through the passage of Referendum 74. However, just one day after the new law took effect on December 6th, with many couples still flocking to local government offices to apply for marriage licenses, a decision from the other side of the country fueled the national focus on LGBTQ rights and marriage equality.

The Supreme Court has announced it will take up two cases regarding marriage for same-sex couples. One case involves federal law, specifically a provision in the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” ("DOMA"), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law. The plaintiff, Ms. Edith Windsor, brought suit after the Internal Revenue Service taxed her hundreds of thousands of dollars when she inherited the property of her deceased wife, Thea Clara Spyer—taxes she would not be required to pay if her spouse had been of the opposite sex.  

In the second case the Supreme Court will review a state law, California's ban on marriage for same-sex couples through Proposition 8. In 2008, Proposition 8 amended the California state constitution to prohibit marriages of same-sex couples. The Supreme Court will review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.      

Though accepting these cases presents "the possibility that the court could decide all the basic issues surrounding same-sex marriage in one fell swoop," the Supreme Court could also resolve these cases based on much more limited grounds. In fact, it is possible the Court could completely avoid determining the merits of the claims and focus on jurisdictional issues instead.
 The Supreme Court's decision to hear these cases could have been influenced by the "rapid shift in public attitudes" concerning marriage for same-sex couples. Indeed, recent polls show that the majority of Americans support marriage for same-sex couples. Recent changes in state law in places like Washington reflect this trend in public opinion, with the number of states recognizing marriage for same-sex couples jumping from six to nine after this past election.

 Despite society's evolving views on marriage, some equal rights advocates worry that it is too soon to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and have been hesitant to petition the Court for fear of creating harmful precedent. Others are more optimistic, pointing out that both of these cases represent opportunities for progress towards securing equal rights. The Supreme Court is expected to release its decisions on these cases by June 2013.

Caitlin Zittkowski is a third-year law student and had the pleasure of interning with Legal Voice this past semester. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

International Reproductive Rights: A Good Start

by Beth Leonard

Last week, the issue of reproductive rights received attention from the international community as well as something new - support. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that reproductive choice is a human right and that, in order to exercise that right, people in every country need access to high quality services. This is the first time that the UN has agreed that reproductive choice is a human right, which makes this announcement truly a landmark for international women’s rights organizations and for women all over the world.

The UNFPA announcement stated that reproductive choice is necessary because it saves women’s livesThis statement would no doubt be supported by nearly all reproductive rights and reproductive justice advocates/organizations in the world; however, UNFPA’s statement is narrower than one might glean at first glance.

The international community is only in support of “voluntary family planning,” a term of art that does not include the right to access abortions. In fact, UNFPA specifically states that it does not support or promote abortion as a method of family planning.  But the lack of access to safe abortion services has devastating consequences for women, as shown last week by the death of Savita Halappanavar. Savita, an Indian woman living in Ireland, died of blood poisoning after being refused an abortion, even though she was already miscarrying, because Ireland is a Catholic country with very strict restrictions on the availability of abortions.

UNFPA only supports “voluntary family planning” that would prevent the need for abortions, which includes oral contraceptives, injectable contraceptives, and male and female condoms. Additionally, the announcement supports medical efforts to relieve the adverse consequences that might result from unsafe abortions. Unfortunately, the statement does not support practices that would help women, like Savita, that need or want access to safe abortions.

This announcement by the United Nations did not create a law, meaning that there is no legal penalty for governments that do not agree with or adopt the policies in this statement, nor does the statement effectively increase funding for governments to put these practices into place so that families experiencing poverty can have access to reproductive choice and family planning. However, the UN acknowledging the need for family planning and healthcare for women is a huge step for international reproductive rights and a good start for moving towards access to family planning, abortions, healthcare, and choice for women and families all over the world.

Beth Leonard is a third year law student at Seattle University and current Legal  Voice intern.

Friday, November 9, 2012

After the Finish Line

by Amy Shebeck

After the election, is anyone else experiencing a little cognitive dissonance?  As in, everything seeming the same…but feeling different?

We woke up on Wednesday in a country that has chosen women to fill 20% of its Senate seats.   We elected hundreds of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates to state and national office, including the first openly lesbian Senator and the first openly gay person of color elected to the House of RepresentativesNine of our states have now legalized marriage for all couples, including Washington, where the success of our grassroots movement for marriage equality was confirmed yesterday.  We have also elected our first Asian American woman Senator, our first combat-wounded veteran woman Representative, and, in New Hampshire, our first openly transgender state representative.

Incidentally, this country was brought to you by an electorate of which an unprecedented 28% were people of color.

As of Wednesday, we also live in a country that has defined itself anew by what it refuses to become. In my home state of Minnesota, this meant being the first state to reject an amendment to its constitution that would have banned same sex marriage.  In other states, it meant soundly defeating politicians who attempted to define and legitimize taxonomies of rape. And in Washington and Colorado, it meant making brave first steps toward eliminating failed drug policies that disproportionately affect people of color, harm women and destroy communities.

On Wednesday and the days following, you might have found yourself scouring the news for proof of the existence of this new America.  You might have been trying to find out more about what this country of yours—one you believed in, but perhaps were cautious about imagining as an actual reality—is really going to be like. 

What do you do once you cross the finish line of November 6th, 2012, where everything is the same, but different? Of course, you keep on running.  The country is different, but the race is still the same.

Amy Shebeck is a third year law student at the University of Washington and former Legal Voice intern. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Dustbin of Quackery

by Sarah Hayward

Recently, California Governor, Jerry Brown, signed landmark legislation banning licensed therapists from offering harmful “ex-gay  therapy” to minors. This is the first legislation of its kind, but already other states are proposing similar laws. The California law prevents licensed therapists from engaging in psychological “therapy” supposedly aimed at turning lesbian and gay youths straight. Governor Brown called these types of practices “nonscientific” with “no basis in science or medicine” and relegated these practices to the “dustbin of quackery.

These practices are widely viewed as ineffective and, in fact, harmful, by the majority of mental health professionals. Indeed, while the bill was authored by State Senator Ted Lieu (D), it was co-sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality California, Gaylesta, the Courage Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the Mental Health America of Northern California. In addition to the bill’s sponsors, it was supported by dozens of organizations, including a number of mental health organizations, including: The California Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (California Division), the National Association of Social Workers (CA Chapter), the California Latino Psychological Association, and the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies.

Youths have blamed so-called “reparative therapy” for causing depression and for causing suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Proponents of these abusive practices were quick to file two separate lawsuits in California. The first is being brought by the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a Christian legal group. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff asserts that he was cured of his same sex attractions by “reparative therapy.” The plaintiff claims that the statute requires mental health professionals to discriminate against minors based on their sexual orientation. The second lawsuit is being brought by two teenage boys who have been undergoing “reparative therapy.” They claim that the law violates the teens’ freedom of speech and freedom of religion by denying them the chance to be cured of unwanted same-sex attraction.

Despite the pending litigation, other states are following California’s lead. A State Representative in Pennsylvania and a lawmaker in New Jersey have each introduced bills in their respective states that would ban mental health providers from offering sexual orientation “conversion therapy” for minors.

This is an important step in protecting gay and lesbian youths from these damaging practices; however, the California bill only prevents licensed therapists from offering “reparative therapy,” it does not prevent churches or other groups from doing the same.  However, the bill is a important start and it has brought national media attention to these dangerous practices that  try to teach lesbian and gay teens that there is something wrong with them.

Sarah Hayward is a third-year law student at Seattle University School of Law.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Weed and Women? Why Supporting Legalization of Marijuana Can Help Women

As any concerned mother would do, Ms. K contacted child protective services when she discovered that her partner was endangering the lives of her one and three-year-old child. Fearing abuse and unable to control the situation herself, Ms. K never suspected that she would be the one arrested when CPS and the police arrived. After all, Ms. K had no history of child neglect or abuse and had called to protect her children. Ms. K habitually used marijuana to cope with an anxiety disorder. After agreeing to a search and testing positive for marijuana in her system, her children were taken away from her. She then began her spiral into depression, more drug use, time spent in residential treatment programs, and now prison. Although Ms. K’s children are in the care of their grandmother, the state is moving to terminate her parental rights so the children can be adopted. Ms. K will permanently lose her parental rights, even though she is likely to live with her mother and children when she returns to the community. The grandmother would like to take the children to see Ms. K; however the social worker on the case will not approve the visits. All of this is said to be in the best interest of her children.

I heard this story from Ms. K just last week as I sat in the legal library of the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where as an Equal Justice Works Attorney at Legal Voice I provide know your rights information for women who are facing separation from their children due to incarceration. Unfortunately, the story underlying Ms. K’s situation is all too common: domestic violence, coping through drug use, devaluation of motherhood for alleged drug use and mental health instability.

As women’s rights advocates, we should not ignore our incarcerated sisters, the fastest growing population in prison. Due to racial inequality in our criminal justice system, a disproportionate number of these women are women of color

Inequities for these women and their children exist even before the children are born.  Many women are forced to give birth in inhumane conditions. I talk to pregnant women in prison who are forced to continue their pregnancies with poor nutrition and little or no prenatal health care services.

Like Ms. K, many women lose their kids permanently because federal law requires that the state cease to reunify families in the child welfare system and begin proceedings to terminate parental rights as soon as the child is in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. For incarcerated parents who often serve sentences for non-violent property of drug crimes that exceed 15 months, they may permanently lose their parental rights.

Like Ms. K, many of these women who face losing their parental rights are also survivors of sexual and physical abuse. Incarceration for drug offenses fails to address the issues of underlying trauma and abuse that likely contributed to their involvement with drugs. Prison may actually exacerbate these issues since sexual and physical violence against women at the hands of correctional officers is widespread. The abuse experienced in the prison has devastating consequences for women who are survivors, have high rates of depression and who are working on overcoming substance abuse and addiction.

Because of the circumstances described above, Legal Voice has joined numerous other organizations in the call for an end to our failed marijuana policies by endorsing ballot Initiative 502. For some, the reasons for a women’s rights organization’s support for legalization of marijuana may not be so clear. That is no surprise, since little attention has been paid to the effects drug policy has on our women and girls. Some disturbing facts:
  • The rate of imprisonment of women in WA increased by 84% from 1995-2005.
  • The rate at which women used drugs actually declined from 1986-1996, but the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses increased by 888%.
  • The vast majority of incarcerated women are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, other forms of sexual assault, and/or battering.  Most have been abused by multiple people.  
  • Studies show the correlation between trauma related to gender violence and subsequent drug and/or alcohol addiction in women.
  • Only 1 in 5 women in state prisons with a history of substance abuse and 1 in 8 women in federal prisons receives treatment for substance abuse.
  • Nationwide, an estimated 85% of women who are incarcerated are mothers, and more than half have children under 18.
  • The chances that an incarcerated mother will permanently lose her parental rights has doubled since 1995.

The decriminalization of marijuana can lead to fewer women being incarcerated, and therefore fewer women who are faced with the trauma and violence that prisons perpetuate. The central theme of the Reproductive Justice framework is to recognize that the control and exploitation of women’s bodies, sexuality and reproduction is an effective way of controlling individuals and communities, particularly those of color. The criminal justice system creates the perfect scenario to control women’s bodies. Controlling an individual’s body controls her life, her options and her potential.

Still not sure if I-502 is a women’s issue? Here are some answers to the common questions I hear regularly

In sum, we need real solutions that address the underlying causes of drug use in our community. It is time we look at a public health approach, instead of criminalization. Solutions such as I-502 have the potential to help mothers like Ms. K address the underlying issues of control and abuse. Just imagine: what would Ms. K’s situation have looked like if instead of arresting her for habitual drug use, she were instead provided the support necessary to protect her children and change the abusive dynamic in her home?

Lillian Hewko is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Legal Voice.  She is working to implement a project she developed to provide legal education to incarcerated mothers and implement litigation and legislative strategies to reduce the chances of family separation in Washington State.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Assisted Reproductive Technology in Primetime

by Caitlin Zittkowski

The fall season debut of NBC’s show, The New Normal, has brought a flurry of mixed reactions, ranging from stations refusing to air the show because it is “inappropriate” for a family-viewing timeslot to critics yawning when presented with stock gay male characters spouting quips about fashion. Premised on the reality that the “traditional” family unit has evolved beyond recognition from the Leave It To Beaver days, the show follows David and Bryan, a gay couple in Los Angeles, and Goldie, the woman who acts as their surrogate. They are accompanied by Shania, Goldie’s own wise-beyond-her-years daughter, and Jane, Goldie’s closed-minded grandmother.

Though some have focused more on the David and Bryan’s relationship and how it reflects on gay couples, The New Normal has also brought another set of issues into the limelight: assisted reproductive technology and, more specifically, surrogacy. While surrogacy has been on the rise in recent years, the process is often shrouded in secrecy due to privacy concerns, ethical issues, and shame on the part of some different-sex couples who perceive not being able to get pregnant without medical assistance as some kind of shortcoming. The intricacy of surrogacy issues has also posed complicated questions to feminists and members of the reproductive justice community, ranging from whether and how women acting as surrogates should be compensated, whether surrogacy contracts should be enforced, and whether and how surrogacy should be regulated to protect women’s autonomy while ensuring informed consent.

Infusing additional confusion into an already complex set of ethical issues is the fact that surrogacy’s legal landscape is fragmented and inconsistent. Some states permit surrogacy agreements, some penalize it, and some have no laws addressing the subject at all. There are also no federal laws on the books regulating surrogacy. As a result, there are often no concrete answers to legal questions facing intended parents, women acting as surrogates, and those professionals who facilitate the relationship between them.

The New Normal, perhaps unintentionally, draws attention to a few of the dilemmas surrogacy implicates. In one episode, David and Bryan try to persuade Goldie to stop eating the charbroiled burgers that she craves during her pregnancy. Though meant to be funny, this scene raises weightier questions about the right of women acting as surrogates to maintain control of their bodies. And the surrogacy service employee’s glib comparison of a woman acting as a surrogate to an “Easy-Bake Oven, except with no legal rights to the cupcake” definitely raises some eyebrows.

The first episodes of The New Normal barely skim the surface of the issues that could arise between intended parents and a woman acting as a surrogate. Hopefully as the series develops, it will spur serious conversations about the right to form and maintain families.

Caitlin Zittkowski is a law student and intern at Legal Voice. Originally from Cleveland, she is spending the next few months in Seattle, exploring the city by bike and drinking way too much coffee.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Sisterhood of Marriage

By Anna McAllister

I’m lucky to have five sisters: four I grew up with, and one that came to me by love. All of us have— or are about to have— children. And all of us are in strong, loving committed marriages. Except one of them isn’t recognized by law.

Here’s another way I’m lucky: my sister Molly is also just about my very best friend. She’s got a huge, loving, generous heart. She couldn’t be a more devoted aunt to my two daughters. She makes me laugh, she cries with me, she loves and supports me always. I like to think I do the same for her.

Just about 10 years ago, Molly told me she was gay. She was married to a man at the time— but even so, I wasn’t surprised to hear the news she shared so anxiously with me. It was like a subconscious part of me had known it all along. Throughout the difficult months that followed, as Molly ended her marriage and began dating women, we reached a whole new level of closeness.

I couldn’t have been happier when Molly and April became a couple. Not just because of how great they were together, but because of how much I connected with April. Almost instantly, she became an integral part of our family. I warned Molly that we might have to keep April around instead of her if they broke up. I was only half kidding.

So naturally, I was thrilled when they decided to commit themselves to one another. And beyond honored when they asked my husband and me to lead the ceremony, our elder daughter to sing, and our younger daughter to serve as their flower girl. I had already been thinking of April as my sister for months, but on that joyous day I started referring to her as my sister-in-love.

Now, nearly five years later, Molly and April have a family of their own: a sweet and hilarious 2-year-old daughter and a son due any day. And although I have been married to a wonderful man for 21 years—and gave birth to my first daughter five years after that—I am constantly learning about the true nature of love from Molly, April and the family they’ve created together. I am so lucky to have April as my sister-in-love. Someday soon, though, I hope she can be my sister-in-law as well. 

Anna McAllister is a Pride Foundation Parent Ambassador, sharing her story in order to change hearts and minds around the freedom to marry.

Anna's story first appear at Why Marriage Matters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Women’s rights + immigrants’ rights = inseparable

by Becky Pogany

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is outrageously easy to support – or at least, it should be.  VAWA protects all women living in the U.S. from harm.  It provides programs and services for survivors of violence: rape crisis centers, hotlines, legal aid, and protection from eviction, among other things. 

VAWA also illustrates an important link between women’s rights and immigrant rights.  Fearing retribution by both their abusers and immigration authorities, immigrant women are far less likely to speak up and seek help. By providing special attention to the difficult situation faced by immigrant women who are victims of violence,  VAWA makes it possible for thousands of immigrant women to escape dangerous, violent situations every year. 

VAWA is the compassionate heart of our country’s efforts to protect women’s basic human right to safety, and Congress renewed it in both 2000 and 2005.  So why is it in danger of not being renewed again this year?

Immigrant women who survive serious crimes (domestic violence, rape, torture) and who help law enforcement investigate and prosecute those crimes can get a special form of protection through VAWA, called a U visa.  This allows women to testify against their attackers without fear of negative immigration consequences; it also grants them legal status and work eligibility.

Earlier this year, conservative House Republicans moved to block VAWA’s reauthorization because they objected to these protections for immigrant women; they also objected to protections for same-sex couples.

VAWA’s U visa provision is a rare expression of one our county’s highest values: that protecting women’s lives and bringing domestic violence criminals to justice are paramount, regardless of immigration status.  In a landscape of increasingly restrictive immigration laws across the country, VAWA upholds and honors the contributions of immigrant women to our society.

Why worry about this now? A resolution may not come until after the November general election, but that doesn’t change the fact that thousands of immigrant women urgently need the protections VAWA has provided for many years.  Women have been in limbo since late August, when the last of the 10,000 U visas available annually was approved.  This is the third year in a row we have hit this ceiling, and the earliest date that U visas have ever run out.  Clearly this is a much-needed and well-utilized protection that benefits the women who receive it AND the law enforcement efforts they assist.

There is urgent need for protection for women like Juana Villegas:

“In July 2008, a routine police stop … triggered Villegas’ arrest for a traffic violation and not having a driver’s license. Villegas was an undocumented immigrant. The charges were later dropped. Two days after her arrest, authorities shackled her wrists and ankles during an ambulance ride to a hospital, shortly before she went into labor.”

Villegas is currently awaiting approval for her U visa.  (Legal Voice fought successfully against the practice of shackling of pregnant & laboring women in Washington state.)

Advocates are not letting VAWA fall by the wayside.  As Washington Senator Maria Cantwell said, “We're mad, and we're tired of it.”   Women’s rights and immigrants’ rights are (and should be!) a bipartisan issue – so it’s encouraging to see Republican Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff team up with Democratic Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler to demand VAWA’s reauthorization with expanded protections for immigrant women: “All women who have lived through violence and abuse should have the certainty that the law will protect them — no matter their race, creed, color, religion or immigration status.”

Let’s continue joining our movements together to support immigrant women.  This important women’s and immigrants’ rights legislation deserves our focused attention and spirited defense.  United, advocates for women’s and immigrants’ rights can make the biggest impact on preserving the right to be safe.

Becky Pogany is on staff at OneAmerica, Washington State’s largest immigrant rights advocacy organization.  She’s also a Legal Voice volunteer, former staff member, and megafan.

Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Friday, September 21, 2012

Women’s Work in the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

by Amy Shebeck

The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) voted on Tuesday to end its historic seven-day strike against the Chicago Public Schools. Although the strike inspired a great deal of commentary nationwide, a few issues were often overlooked. For example, how 87% of the CTU are women, mirroring 76% of public school teachers nationwide. Or how commentators who vehemently opposed the strike characterized the CTU. Adjectives like “fat,” “lazy,” “greedy,” and “selfish,” were common, as were sentiments expressed in one Fox News editorial, proclaiming that the strike was “Exhibit A for what ails America...for why America is broke...why America is dysfunctional...and why our public school system is in a shambles.”

Given the demographics of Chicago’s public school teachers and the language used to undermine and scapegoat them, shouldn’t this be a bigger story?

It’s often true that when sexual or racial minorities organize and advocate on behalf of themselves, American public opinion can be swift to condemn, in which case maybe descriptions of the predominantly female CTU as a gang of conniving, lazy ingrates is hardly news. However, the CTU strike occurred during an election season in which both Democrats and Republicans have sought to cater to women by highlighting their contributions to the social and economic fabric of America. At both parties’ national conventions, held in the weeks preceding the strike, women were touted for their roles as moms helping with book reports, or hardworking members of the middle class, huddling with their husbands over the kitchen table to make a household budget. They were not portrayed as labor activists (led by a woman of color, no less), or as rank and file individuals who could unite in the face of extreme opposition and, to most observers, successfully achieve something better for themselves and their students.

Perhaps for that reason, some of the shrillest insults directed at the CTU strikers have an unmistakable note of fear in them. In contrast to the images of women as domestic, virtuous, and, most importantly, obedient that have become useful political currency in 2012, the CTU teachers subverted the traditional idea of teaching as women’s work, revealing how women workers who dare to challenge the status quo can transform it, no matter who’s running for office.

Amy Shebeck, a former Legal Voice legal intern, is a third year law student at the University of Washington. She lived in Chicago before attending law school.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Will Women Make the Difference in Winning Marriage Equality?

In just 50 days, Washington voters will decide whether to keep our law to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry. In case you haven’t been following closely, voters will need to Approve Referendum 74 on November 6th to keep the freedom to marry in Washington state.

We’ve always known that women voters will be key in winning this historic vote. But this point was underscored last week by a poll that measured voter support for approving Referendum 74.

The poll found voters would approve the marriage equality law by a margin of 56% to 38%. But the poll also showed a significant difference in support between women and men. The poll found that support among women was a whopping 65% to 29%. By contrast, men were evenly divided at 47% to 47%.

Of course, we can’t read too much into one poll. Our opponents haven’t yet unleashed any commercials to try to mislead and frighten voters, and we need to keep working harder than ever to educate voters about why marriage matters for lesbian and gay couples. But the strong support among women in the poll was striking - and it closely matched the breakdown of support among female and male lawmakers when the Washington Legislature passed the marriage equality law in February of this year.

Women currently hold 47 of the 147 seats in the Washington Legislature. Back in February, women lawmakers voted for marriage equality by an overwhelming margin of 33-14 – which translates to 70% support. The male lawmakers literally split their votes 50-50.

Simply put, the marriage equality law wouldn’t have passed the Legislature without the outsized support of women lawmakers. And this November, woman voters can make a similar difference in winning the fight to Approve Referendum 74.

That’s especially true because in a referendum, every voter is like an individual lawmaker and the entire electorate will decide whether the marriage equality law should be retained. Since the electorate is just about evenly divided between women and men, that means women will have an equal voice in deciding the issue.

Unfortunately, that’s still not true in our legislative bodies. Today, women hold only 17% of the seats in Congress, which puts us 80th in the world in terms of women’s representation in national legislative bodies. And while things are better In Washington, women still hold less than 32% of the seats in the State Legislature – and that’s down from a high of 41% that was reached back in 1996.

Want to learn more about how you can help win the fight to Approve Referendum 74? You can visit the Washington United for Marriage website for more information about how to volunteer, donate, or contribute in other ways. You can also help make a difference this week by joining Legal Voice on Wednesday night to phonebank for Approve 74, or by coming to happy hours tonight and tomorrow in Seattle to learn how you can help mobilize support for the freedom to marry among your friends, families, co-workers, and neighbors.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marriage Matters

by Molly McAllister 

I am one of the fortunate ones.  

Nearly 3 years after I married my high school sweetheart, I realized I was gay.   Driving down a Bainbridge road in my dad’s yellow Cadillac, I broached the subject tentatively.

Me:     “Dad?”  
Dad :  “Yes, honey?” 
Me:     “I have a crush.”  
Dad:    “Oh, honey, what’s his name?” 

[Heavy pause.  My dad’s hand instinctively goes to my knee.]

 Dad:    “Oh, sweetheart, what’s her name?” 

[Deep sigh - Deep relief]

Like I said, I am one of the lucky ones.  I had instant love and support from my family when I realized that I was (and am) gay.  After the champagne cork of my sexuality unhinged itself, I met the woman of my dreams – the tall and talented April.  Nine years later, I am so proud to say that we share a lovely and oh-so-gregarious daughter, Ms. Harper, and have a boy on the way.  We are a family, a loving and happy family, and I couldn’t feel more fortunate.  

About 5 years ago, April and I had a beautiful ceremony on the shores of Lake Union.  We exchanged rings, and wept as my sister and brother-in-law took us through our vows in front of over 200 guests.  Minute by minute, it was the best day of my life.  Aside from our daughter’s birth, I think I can say that my beautiful wife feels the same.

But wife?  She’s not really that, is she?  Not in the eyes of the law, at least.
And that breaks my heart.  She is my wife, and so much more.  She is my heart.  My love.  My big ol’ four-leaf clover.  My reason for waking up, and crawling back into bed at night.  Always.  In sickness and in health until death do us part, you know?  I always said that April was like the icing on my little cake of life.  And that’s exactly how marriage feels to me.  It would feel awfully good to be married to the love of my life, to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law, and to call her “my wife.” 

I can’t imagine a better way to say to the world, ‘Hey, we love each other!’ than getting hitched.  Let’s hope that, someday, we can.

Molly McAllister is a Pride Foundation Parent Ambassador, volunteering her time to share her story in order to change hearts and minds around the freedom to marry.  To get involved email Laurie or visit WhyMarriageMattersWashington.