US Supreme Court (Sort of) Decides on Same Sex Marriage
Jesse Bachir, Durham University
Following last year’s decision in Windsor, same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy groups across the United States have been filing suits against State governments challenging the Constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.
So far, almost every Court (with one exception) in the United States has found marriage bans to be unconstitutional either under Federal Constitutional law or State Constitutional law. Most recently, earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied a petition to review 7 cases from lower Federal Courts on the constitutionality of marriage bans. In denying review of the cases, the decisions of the lower courts stood (all of which found the bans unconstitutional), and the stays of execution issued by the lower courts were removed. That brings the total to 32 States with equal marriage.
The Supreme Court effectively, though indirectly, decided the issue for the rest of the country – in allowing the lower court decisions to stand, clear judicial precedent has been made. The lower courts in all 7 of the denied review cases found the marriage bans to be unconstitutional for the same reasons. In denying review, the Supreme Court implicitly agreed with the rulings of the lower courts and avoided wading into the politically charged topic.
A number of States are currently trying to defend their marriage bans, or suits have been filed and are awaiting action. It is clear that marriage is coming to every State in the United States via judicial decision; it’s only a matter of time until the remaining States run of appeals.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, same-sex marriage has been brought to 16 more states.A timeline for marriage in the United States can be found here.
First British Investigation into Dowry Abuse launched
Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University
This week police launched their first-ever investigation into “dowry abuse” in Britain, amid pressure from campaign groups. Dowry is a centuries-old practice referring to an amount paid by the wife’s family to the husband’s upon marriage. The Sharan Project, a charity working with ethnic-minority women experiencing violence, alone received 50 reports within the past year of women being abused or blackmailed by in-laws who feel they had not received enough money. Such treatment is responsible for 14,000 deaths worldwide and can also drive women to hospitalisation or suicide.
Dwinderjit Kaur, the first woman to successfully sue for the return of her dowry through civil court, experienced similar treatment when she was married. She discovered that her ex-husband married because “his family wanted a bigger house…and they thought my dowry would pay for it”. When her family could not afford this, her in-laws considered her “a bad investment” and began restricting her freedom.
Legislation, such as the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 in India and similar laws in Pakistan, has outlawed the practice in other countries. In contrast, it remains legal here in the UK and the Crown Prosecution Service does not provide guidelines for dealing with dowry violence. The police say this is because, until now, the extent of the issue was not known to them. Commander Mak Chishty, the Association of Chief Police Officer’s national lead on forced marriage and honour-based violence, said that, “following this information, there will be a real hard line with this”. It remains to be seen whether such action will be taken. However, if the treatment of similar issues such as FGM is anything to go by, it appears that campaigners still have a long road ahead of them before dowry abuse is criminalised.
Decency and Homophobia
Alex Maine, Newcastle University
Recent events have served to demonstrate that homophobia is still used to enforce shame and resentment throughout the western world, despite the formal recognition in liberal societies. A ‘light kiss’ was enough for a gay couple to be ejected from a bus in London, supposedly the most diverse city in the world, while a lesbian couple were removed from a Sainsbury’s in Brighton, the capital of the UK’s gay culture, for showing the same simple and discrete display of affection. Jack James and his boyfriend were told they were not real men and did not deserve a seat on the driver’s bus, while a security guard escorted Annabelle Paige and her girlfriend out of Sainsbury’s after a fellow customer complained. Thankfully, these examples did not have as harsh consequences as for the Italian gay rights activists who have been charged with disturbing the peace for passionately kissing in public. Even in Western Europe, there are still places where LGB people have no legal recognition and are still subjugated and shamed for expressing themselves.
Some may argue that they simply do not wish to see a gay, lesbian or bisexual person openly expressing their sexuality, in the same way they would not want to see any straight person committing a ‘PDA’ – a ‘public display of affection’. However, the issue of straight privilege nevertheless allows heterosexuals the pleasure. As a homosexual man, I have been made to feel uncomfortable, forced to move and forced to distance myself from my partner many times in public spaces. I even have friends who would be uncomfortable seeing me kiss my partner in front of them. The expression “I’m not homophobic but…” is one all too familiar to members of the LGBT community: an expression of tolerance, as long as the LGB community and LGB sexualities are not too visible in public life.
This shows how the law’s liberal approach fails. The fact gay people are legally allowed to kiss and hold hands in public, does not mean that it is accepted by society that they should. Homophobic people are also allowed to express their own views and often feel completely entitled to do so. The law’s patriarchal structure and competing rights to freedom of expression means that prejudice is all too easily spouted and too readily accepted by society. The expelling of LGB individuals from public places harks to the outlawing of the promotion of ‘non-traditional relationships’ in Russia, a mechanism used for horrific homophobia. A look at the Daily Mail comments on these stories shows how hatred is often disguised as ‘decency’ and the old liberal idea of ‘acceptance’ – as long as LGB people keep their sexualities private – is still running strong.
59th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva
Gita Keshava, Durham University
The CEDAW Conference is currently happening in Geneva, Switzerland and will end on November 7, 2014. The Committee will hear country reports from Ghana, Belgium, Brunei Darussalam, China, Guinea, Poland, Soloman Islands and Venezuela and will aim to ensure that governments have a national action plan to bring an end to gender based discrimination based on their obligations in the Convention. On Tuesday October 21, Venezuela was praised for their gender equality policies and social programs that have risen female participation in politics, education, and the labour force in general.
Andreina Tarazon, the head of the Venezuelan delegation and the Minster for Women and Gender Equality in Venezuela, reported that as a result of the social programs, the rate of enrolment in school is almost equal and the rate of unemployment amongst females has dropped significantly. In addition, she highlighted that “in the communal councils and communes, which are local for the organisation and management of territorialized issues, 55% are led by women.”
Despite these improvements, the fight must continue for gender equality in Venezuela. Female harassment in public remains a big issue and it abortion remains illegal with a sentence of two years imprisonment.