Speaking of Women's Rights: 12/12

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.