International Women’s Day
Today, 8th March, marks International Women’s Day 2013, a day to celebrate the achievements and lives of women across the globe, as well as speaking out against oppression of women and the issues still facing women today.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. The first National Women’s Day was celebrated in the US in 1909, following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. The very first International Women’s Day was launched in 1911 on 19th March (not 8th March) – the 19th March was chosen to mark the promise made by the Prussian king on this date during the 1848 revolution to introduce votes for women. Since 1913, it has been celebrated on the 8th March.
Thousands of events take place across the world annually on IWD to honour women and stand up for rights and change. In India this year, women took to the street to demand better rights for women, following the gang rape and killing of a young woman earlier this year. In Russia, protestors staged a picket of the headquarters of the Russian prison service to call for the release of punk band Pussy Riot who were jailed last year after speaking out against the Government. Closer to home, a Million Women Rise march will be taking place in London on the 9th March.
Russian ‘homosexual propaganda’ Bill
A Bill that would ban ‘homosexual propaganda’ has recently passed its first reading in Russia’s Parliament. The second reading is scheduled for around May, by which time they hope to have clarified exactly what ‘homosexual propaganda’ entails. While the fact that it has passed the first reading is not surprising, the ratio of votes supporting the bill and those that disapprove perhaps is – 338 votes to one.
One avid supporter of the Bill is Yevgeny Mazepin, a lawyer and leader of a campaign group ‘Special Battalion’, who spends his time involved with activities linked with the aims of the Bill – such as the march that he organised in January of this year in the city of Voronezh, a city 500km from Russia’s capital city. Around 1500 people were present, not only to show support for the Bill, but to express their disapproval of the 14 demonstrators who were there to oppose it.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, but recent years have seen the banning of gay pride marches in Moscow, as well as increasingly negative attitudes to homosexuality. In 2010, Moscow authorities repeatedly denied permission for gay-rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev to organise a march through the city, a decision that the European Court of Human Rights ruled was unlawful on the basis Russia had discriminated against him on the basis of sexual orientation.
As it stands at the moment, it is unknown how exactly the Bill will affect life for homosexuals in Russia – it is dependent in part upon the scope given to ‘homosexual propaganda’, potentially allowing for broad interpretations to be used to further marginalise the gay community of Russia.
Obama files amicus on same-sex marriage
In a shocking move Obama has filed a momentous amicus with the Supreme Court asking that they not only over turn Proposition 8 but also state that bans on equal marriage everywhere violate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution and that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be given extra rigorous examination.
Why is this important? Well, firstly, if the Supreme Court sides with Obama and his administration then any ban on equal marriage in any state within the US would be found to be unconstitutional – and this is important. Under current law if a same-sex couple is legally married one state they may not be legally married in another if that other state does not recognize same-sex marriages. However, the proposal by the Obama administration suggests that the non-recognition of same-sex marriages would be in itself unconstitutional. In turn, this could be used to challenge every state’s law in court and force them to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. If the judiciary truly wanted to, they could force equal marriage onto all 50 states in a move similar to that done with regards to inter-racial marriages.
But why else is this so hugely important? Obama suggested that cases involving discrimination based on sexual orientation should be treated more strictly than the rational basis test. Under current common law, precedent cases involving discrimination based on sexual orientation are tested against the rational basis test which requires merely that the government prove it is acting in pursuit of a legitimate aim.
The next level up from the rational basis test is the intermediate scrutiny test, which is used for cases of sex discrimination. Intermediate scrutiny requires that the government is acting in a way that furthers a government interest in an appropriate way. Moving LGBT issues up to intermediate scrutiny would help the LGBT community in being able to challenge discriminatory laws more successfully – the potential for legal equality increases greatly when the test used is intermediate scrutiny rather than rational basis.