In a sudden death playoff, Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters Golf Tournament. The tournament is held at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia and is considered one of the most prestigious golf clubs in the world.
Along with those who receive a green blazer for winning the tournament, the wearing of a green blazer also signifies members of the club. This year at the Masters marked the first year that a woman wore the green blazer. Although it is not possible for a woman to win the Masters, there are now two women members of Augusta National Golf Club, ending a long period of sex-based discrimination practiced by the club.
Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice are now the only female members of the exclusive golf club that has a member list including billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Additionally, CEO’s that are traditionally granted membership into the golf club include those of companies such as tournament sponsor IBM. In 2012, Augusta National drew public ridicule for not offering membership to the newly named IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, though the club had always extended an invitation of membership to her male predecessors.
The attention that was placed on IBM and the Augusta National could be a reason why the club finally allowed women members but there are additional circumstances that have taken place, which could have affected the club’s decision. When the sex-based discrimination controversy over the club arose in 2002 with a release of the names of the club’s members, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, joining forces with a major civil rights firms in Washington, brought multiple lawsuits for employment sex discrimination against corporations with CEO’s who were members of the club. Numerous suits lead to substantial amounts of money paid to women at the companies.
Although the reasoning behind the decision of Augusta National Golf Club in extending membership to women will never truly be known, the attention given to sex-based discrimination lawsuits against powerful companies has likely played a role of putting green jackets on the shoulders of women for the first time.
Kansas is set to enact one of the most restrictive and sweeping anti-abortion laws in the country. The Kansas bill states that life begins at fertilization and imposes a number of new abortion regulations. Specifically, the bill prohibits employees of abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in schools; bans tax credits for abortion services; requires health care clinics to give details to women about fetal development and abortion health risks; and bans abortions based solely on the gender of the fetus.
Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, the Kansas House voted ninety to thirty for the bill; hours earlier, the state Senate approved the bill by twenty-eight to ten. Governor Sam Brownback is a strong anti-abortion leader and he is widely expected to sign the bill into law within the next few days. The new restrictions will go into effect on July 1, 2013. Critics of the bill argue that it will be harmful to women. For instance, Kansas Senator David Haley, a Democrat who opposed the bill, argues that advocates of the bill were pursuing a “Taliban-like” course by letting religious views dominate the debate; he further argues that the law would limit women’s ability to make decisions about health care and reproduction decisions. Haley also contends that some health care providers might interpret the provision specifying that life begins at fertilization as a ban on birth control.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the United States Supreme Court held that regulations that place a substantial burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion are unconstitutional. According to the Kansas City Star editorial board, the Kansas bill is one of the most punitive abortion bills in the country because the bill (1) places additional financial hardships on women; (2) forces doctors to disseminate misleading information; (3) puts schools in a difficult legal position; (4) denies tax breaks to any health care facility affiliated with abortion services; (4) forces physicians to consider a patient’s motives for seeking an abortion due to the gender-specific abortion provision; and (5) the bill is intended to “harass abortion providers, patients and other entitles, like schools, which are caught in the middle.” For these reasons, the Kansas bill would likely be deemed an undue burden on abortion rights.
The Kansas anti-abortion law highlights the growing trend of states either enacting or considering anti-abortion legislation. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there was not a single significant measure adopted by any state to expand access to abortion in 2012. The Guttmacher report notes that nineteen states adopted forty-three new provisions restricting abortion access in 2012. This trend has unmistakably continued in 2013. In recent months, Arkansas legislators enacted a ban on abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy and lawmakers in North Dakota enacted an anti-abortion law that sets the limit at six weeks.
Based in Topeka, Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church has recently been brought back into the public spotlight for something other than protesting deceased military personnel funerals. A non-profit supporting gay rights, Planting Peace, purchased a home across the street from the often-hated church and painted it rainbow colors which serves as a symbol for the support of gay rights protected by the First Amendment as freedom of expression. The house purchased across the street from Westboro is named the “Equality House.”
Westboro Baptist Church has been in the practice of gathering for anti-gay protests at the funerals of American military heroes since 1991. In 2011, the Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether or not the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected the church in their protests. The Court in a 8-1 holding, determined that the First Amendment did protect the church and stated, “Freedom of speech is so central to the nation that it protects cruel and unpopular protests – even, in this case, at the moment of a family’s most profound grief.”
Although Westboro’s protests are protected by the First Amendment, many including Planting Peace, want to combat these messages of hate projected by members of Westboro Baptist with their own form of expression secured by the First Amendment. Aaron Jackson and his non-profit are attempting to spread the message of equality and compassion with a goal of “promoting equality.”
Members of Westboro have responded to the Equality House with statements such as, “We thank God for the sodomite rainbow house…It is right across the street from the only church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, Nation destroying sin of sodomy.” Jackson believes that the energy being put into Westboro’s beliefs and the attention they receive will be used and turned into something positive for the through the Equality House for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Arizona lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it a criminal offense for transgender people to use public restrooms not associated with their birth gender. The proposed bill created so much controversy that it had to be delayed. Specifically, the proposed bill provides: “[A] person commits disorderly conduct if they intentionally enter a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room, and a sign indicates that the room is exclusively for the use of one sex, and that person is not legally classified as a member of that sex on their birth certificate.” The proposed bill makes a violation of the law a Class 1 misdemeanor that could include up to six months in prison or $2,500 in fines. The bill provides exceptions for persons who enter as part of their job responsibilities; persons who enter to give aid or assistance to another; a child in need of assistance; and persons who are physically disabled.
The proposed bill was largely in response to a human rights ordinance passed by the Phoenix City Council that prohibits gender identity discrimination at public accommodations. State Representative John Kavanagh, who has spearheaded the proposed legislation, argues that the state should not allow people to use facilities based on “what you think you are.” He justifies the proposed law by claiming, “This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women … For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable just makes no sense.”
There are a number of interesting concerns that this bill raises. One of the chief concerns is how the law would be enforced. Some commentators have aptly noted that the law essentially requires showing papers just to use the bathroom. According to Representative Kavanagh, police officers would have to make judgment calls about when to enforce the law. Another concern with the proposed law is the negative impact it would have on transgender people. According to a recent National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study, fifty-three percent of transgender people report being harassed or disrespected in public accommodations. One commentator cleverly concludes, “The government should keep politics out of the bathroom and focus on other issues. The only ‘papers’ that anyone should have to worry about in the bathroom are Charmin and Angel Soft.”
The debate over the proposed bill also highlights the increased national discussion over transgender rights in recent months. Earlier this year, a six-year old transgender girl in Colorado filed a complaint with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights after her school barred her from using the female restroom after allowing her to do so for a year.
MMA stands for mixed martial arts, which is a blend of fighting styles and skills. Recently Fallon Fox went public as the first transgender fighter in the MMA.
Fox was born a man, became a woman through hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery and then began her training in mixed martial arts. After winning her first two fights, Fox revealed her story to Sports Illustrated on the heels of an investigation into her surgery. In regards to her statements acknowledging that she was born a man, Fallon stated, “It’s just some people, some of society doesn’t get it yet. And this is what we are trying to do now is to inform people and let them know about transgender athletes.” Additionally when asked if there was an advantage for a woman born a man when fighting another woman, Fox stated, “There are no unfair competitive advantages.”
While the MMA allows participation of transgender fighters after completion of two years of hormone therapy, Fox knows that some fans and other fighters will attempt to dismiss her success because she was born in a male body. She argues that she has erased any advantage she had from being born in a male body by participating in ten years of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
In addition to the MMA, other professional sports organizations do not discriminate against transgender athletes. Through her gender change, Fox would currently be allowed to participate in the Olympic games as a woman. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy requires that transgender athletes undergo hormone therapy long enough to remove gender-related advantages. Other professional sports organizations that Fox would currently be allowed to compete in include the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
Fox plans on continuing to fight and since MMA is a sport that does not discriminate against transgender athletes, there will likely continue to be critics who believe she has an unfair competitive advantage even after the treatments she has undergone.
On March 7, 2013, former President Bill Clinton wrote an editorial in The Washington Post arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In 1996, both houses of Congress passed the DOMA by large bipartisan majorities. President Clinton signed the Act mainly to neutralize a political movement in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Specifically, the DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman for all federal purposes and relieves states from recognizing any such union though recognized by another state. Even though the DOMA is still on the books, President Obama has told the Justice Department not to enforce it. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. However, same-sex couples across the country are denied federal benefits and programs because their relationships are not recognized under the DOMA.
The DOMA will come before the Supreme Court on March 27. The purpose of Clinton’s editorial is to explain why the Court should overturn the law. In the editorial, Clinton notes that he has come to believe that the DOMA is contrary to the principles of freedom, equality, and justice, and that the law is “incompatible with our Constitution.” Interestingly, this is the second time Clinton has disavowed a landmark anti-gay legislative measure that he signed into law. In 2010, Clinton stated publicly that he regretted signing the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, a federal law mandating the discharge of any U.S. armed service member who was openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual. DADT was repealed in 2011.
Despite Clinton’s editorial and other opposition to the DOMA, it remains unclear how the Court will rule. Some commentators have prematurely proclaimed that the DOMA is doomed. However, in a recent interview, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the perennial swing vote on the Court, suggested that the Court should not issue controlling opinions on hot-button political issues. He explained, “A democracy should not be dependent for its major decisions on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say.” This statement certainly increases the possibility that the Court may not overturn the DOMA.
Coy Mathis is a 6-year-old first grader who identifies herself as a girl but was born with a boy’s body. Recently the Fountain-Fort Carson School District informed Coy’s parents that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ restroom at school.
Coy Mathis is a triplet who has lived as if she were a girl since she was 18 months of age. By age 4, Coy was telling her mother that she felt as if something were wrong with her body. Coy is diagnosed with gender identity disorder and her doctors recommend that she live as a girl. Since kindergarten Coy has presented as a female and has been using the restrooms designated as girls’ restrooms.
After the decision by the school district not allowing Coy to use the girl’s restroom, Coy’s parents with the assistance of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on Coy’s behalf. Attorney Michael Silverman of the TLDEF stated that, “For many transgender people, discrimination is a daily part of life,” and the complaint is “a test of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.”
In making its decision not allowing Coy to use the girls’ restroom at school, the district “took into account not only Coy but the other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.”
The Fountain-Fort Carson School District is concerned about the possible uncomfortable feelings some students may have if Coy continues to use the girls’ bathroom as her male genitals develop. This concern raises the argument by the TLDEF that by allowing Coy to use the girls’ restroom, the school can send a message to the world and teach fair play, tolerance, and equal rights.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently proposed some changes to New York’s laws on late-term abortions. Specifically, the new law would guarantee that women in New York have a right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable. Under current New York law, abortions are allowed after 24 weeks of pregnancy only if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk. However, this law is unenforced based on Supreme Court rulings allowing late-term abortions to protect a mother’s health, regardless of whether her life is at risk. In Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000), the Supreme Court held that Nebraska’s ban on partial birth abortion was unconstitutional because it lacked any exception for the preservation of the health of the mother. The Supreme Court’s abortion decisions show that the preservation of the health of the mother is a paramount concern. Even though New York’s law is unenforced, abortion rights advocates argue that the law has a chilling effect on some doctors and causes some women to leave the state to seek late-term abortions. Furthermore, the proposed New York law would remove abortion from the state’s penal law and regulate it through the state’s public health law. The proposed law would also provide that licensed health care practitioners as well as physicians could perform abortions.
The proposed New York law has generated fierce criticism from anti-choice advocates. Critics of the law assert that the change would allow for unchecked late-term abortions and increase the overall number of abortions in the state. Furthermore, opponents of the proposal argue that the change would endanger the lives of women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions and prevent any future reasonable regulations of abortion. Polling indicates that many Americans oppose late-term abortions. Indeed, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 80 percent of Americans oppose late-term abortion (defined in the poll as abortion occurring in the final three months of pregnancy).
The proposed New York law also signals a rare occurrence in recent years of a state seeking to expand abortion coverage rather than restrict it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states adopted 43 new provisions restricting abortion access in 2012. Further, the Guttmacher report notes there was not a single significant measure adopted by any state to expand access to abortion. Andrea Miller, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said, “For New York to be able to send a signal, a hopeful sign, a sense of the turning of the tide, we think is really important.”
France has received a great deal of unwanted attention in recent weeks after the French government finally revoked an antiquated law banning women in the French capital from wearing pants. The ban had been in place since 1800 following the French Revolution when women were demanding to wear pants pursuant to a movement for equal rights. In response, the law was enacted so that women were required to receive special permission from the police to “dress as men” in Paris. One commentator explains the purpose of the law: “[B]anning women from trouser-wearing was thus an effective way of banning them from the rank and file of the revolution–and of keeping them, basically, in their place.” Some exceptions were later allowed so women could ride bicycles or horses. In 1946, the ban remained on the books even after women were declared equal to men in the French Constitution. However, the law has been completely unenforced in recent decades. Nevertheless, France’s Minister for Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, officially lifted the ban on January 31, 2013. In a statement, Vallaud-Belkacem wrote: “This ordinance is incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men, which are listed in the Constitution, and in France’s European commitments.”
Antiquated and sexist laws are not unique to France. Indeed, there have been many unenforced sexist laws on the books throughout the United States. For example, New Jersey finally revoked three archaic and sexist laws in 2011. One of the repealed laws required a man and woman to wait at least 72 hours to get married unless the man was arrested for “bastardy, rape, fornication or of having had carnal knowledge of an unmarried female, and the accused person consents to marry such female.” The New Jersey Law Revision Commission aptly described the statutes as “a demeaning relic.” Perhaps the Star-Ledger Editorial Board sums up the situation best: “[L]aw should be a living document that reflects the times, our beliefs and our values. And when we don’t like what the words say about us, we should change them…”
On January 24, 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the current administration would end the Pentagon’s policy banning women from combat roles thus allowing women to be placed in positions with more direct exposure to combat with enemy forces. Women serving in the armed forces are currently not allowed to serve in units that are “tasked with direct combat.”
The Marine Corps has acknowledged that women have ended up on the front lines of combat in more recent modern conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women that have served in supply units and military police units are often those women who experience combat on the front lines with the Marines. In fact, there have been over 150 instances where brave women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in support roles.
While the Marine Corps has acknowledged the role that women have played in various conflicts, some infantry unit members are skeptical of how women would perform in these traditionally male only units and are worried that these positions, which will be open to women, may close if women cannot meet the physical demands of combat. Male and women Marines surveyed also have concerns about sexual harassment and the risk that women would be targets of the enemy, possibly becoming POWs.
In spite of this skepticism, numerous women in military service argue that they are mentally and physically just as capable as men are to perform in combat roles. Some women in the armed forces have raised the fact that they already serve in combat roles but they are not recognized for it and lack the proper training that men service members receive before entering combat zones.
Clearly controversies are going to continue to arise over the decision allowing women to be placed in combat units and other branches of the military will likely express their support and concerns over the recent policy change.