AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, center, speaks Monday, May 9, 2016, in Jackson, Mississippi, about a lawsuit the group filed against the state over House Bill 1523, which will allow workers to cite their own religious objections to same-sex marriage and deny services to citizens. A recently-enacted Mississippi law that permits the denial of services to LGBT individuals on religious grounds could have sweeping implications well beyond the realm of gay marriage, and has reignited a longstanding legal debate over the nature of religious freedom protections granted by the First Amendment. The so-called Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act permits those with “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” regarding gender identity, sexual orientation, and non-marital sex to deny services to LGBT individuals without government sanction. The controversial bill...
LGBT advocates were elated when Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon intended to lift the military’s longstanding ban on transgender members, saying that the current policy was an “outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of individual merit.” Nine months later, the transgender community is still waiting for the department to make its move.
Last July, Carter commissioned a task force to look into the implications of lifting the current transgender service ban and gave the group six months to investigate. At the end of 2015, a Pentagon spokesperson said that the task force’s initial report would be completed in January, but the findings have yet to be made public. (Several media outlets reported that the Pentagon would end the ban on May 27, but department officials have pulled back from that timeline.)
Currently, the military bans openly transgender people from enlisting and public disclosure of one’s transgender status is grounds for discharge. Carter also announced in July a change in the process for discharging currently enlisted transgender service members. The move made it easier for transgender individuals to remain on duty while top Pentagon officials consider lifting the ban, “but it is still unsafe for troops to be out,” says Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a San Francisco-based research center that publishes reports on gender, sexuality, and the military.
A New York Timeseditorial noted that 77 service members have disclosed their transgender status to their superiors in the past year. A 2014 UCLA Williams Institute report estimated that there were 15,500 transgender people in the military. After the most recent military force reductions, Belkin now estimates that there are about 13,000 transgender people in active service.
Two years ago, a commission co-chaired by former U.S. surgeon general Jocelyn Elders reported “that there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service, and that eliminating the ban would advance a number of military interests.”
Recent research bears out those conclusions. According to the Times, a forthcoming RAND Corporation study found that lifting the service ban was unlikely to affect unit cohesion, that only a very small number of individuals would seek gender transition–related medical care annually, and that those costs would be “negligible.”
The Pentagon has been criticized for the delays and for a lack of transparency on transgender issues. Earlier this month, Brad Carson, an acting under secretary of defense who had been the Pentagon’s top civilian official on personnel matters and a key player in the efforts to open the military to transgender service members, resigned after a combative Senate Armed Forces Committee confirmation hearing earlier this year.
Lifting the ban on transgender military service would be another milestone in the Obama administration’s efforts to remove the some of the remaining barriers to military service for certain groups. In 2010, Congress repealed the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prevented gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from serving openly. Last December, Carter announced that all military combat positions, including those in elite units like the Navy SEALs, would be open to women.
When Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence signed a measure that placed controversial limits on abortion, the law’s constitutional implications likely had little bearing on his decision. Nevertheless, Pence’s move comes as some anti-abortion governors and state lawmakers devise even more severe restrictions and force reproductive-rights advocates onto familiar turf in state and federal courtrooms.
Calling the state law “unprecedented and unconstitutional,” the ACLU has filed suit against Indiana in federal court. The state abortion law now bans doctors from performing abortions on women who seek to end pregnancies on the basis of “the fetus’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability”; mandates that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals; demands that all remains be buried or cremated; and requires that women visit their abortion provider to undergo an ultrasound and listen to the fetus’s heartbeat at least 18 hours before actually having an abortion, a provision that would complicate many women’s lives since only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have clinics that offer the procedure.
“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that a woman, not the state, is to determine whether or not to obtain an abortion,” said Ken Falk, the Indiana ACLU’s legal director, in a statement about the lawsuit.
The Guttmacher Institute, a national research and policy nonprofit that promotes reproductive rights and women’s health, notes that since 2010, states have enacted about 300 laws restricting abortions, the most passed in any five-year period since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. In 2015, about 400 abortion restrictions were introduced in state legislatures, mostly in the South and the Midwest.
According to Kelly Baden, the director of state advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization that focuses on reproductive-rights issues, state legislators have already introduced more than 330 bills in the first quarter of 2016 that contain some form of restriction on reproductive health and rights.
With lawmakers spending more time campaigning, “election years should be lighter [for new bills],” says Baden. “But we are not seeing this.” But unless pro-choice lawmakers gain decisive majorities in state houses, reproductive-rights advocates in anti-abortion states may have to continue to resort to legal action.
Pro-choice advocates have won some significant legal victories. Last month, a federal court permanently blocked an Alabama law that required all doctors performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Challenges to similar laws are pending in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. In another recent pro-choice win, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a petition that would have placed a statewide referendum on abortion access on the November ballot.
National pro-choice organizations note that while these rulings protecting abortion rights have been invaluable, lawsuits are time-consuming and expensive. “Part of the [anti-abortion movement’s] strategy is getting the pro-choice side to use up its resources, and litigating cases are a part of that,” says Leslie McGorman, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s deputy policy director.
“We need to do a better job of conveying the impact of restrictions [like Indiana’s] to the public,” says Baden. “Women shouldn’t have to run to court to defend their constitutional right to an abortion.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that roughly 80 percent of the approximately 300 reproductive-rights bills introduced in 2016 contained restrictions on abortion. In fact, state legislators have introduced more than 330 bills that all contain restrictions on reproductive health and rights. The text has been corrected to reflect this.
(Photo: Jenny Warburg) Mitch Xia, one of the organizers of the protests in Chapel Hill on March 29, leads the march up Franklin Street. M arch 31 marks the seventh annual International Transgender Day of Visibility, which honors the transgender community and helps raise awareness of the discrimination and the social barriers faced by transgender people. But this year, a wave of protests has overshadowed celebrations in North Carolina, where state lawmakers recently signed off on one of the most restrictive anti-LGBT laws in the country. The North Carolina law, House Bill 2 (HB2) , limits the use of multi-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities to a person’s “biological sex” and excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from the list of groups protected from discrimination in public accommodations. “The government’s priorities are the protection of its citizens, especially its women and children,” said North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest during a recent...
(Photo: AP/Jose Luis Magana) Protesters demonstrate outside the courthouse in Baltimore on December 16, 2015, after a mistrial was declared in the manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray. S hortly after the death of Freddie Gray drew national attention to Baltimore and the strained relationship between local residents and police, the Maryland General Assembly established a task force to study ways to improve police accountability and transparency. The General Assembly’s Public Safety and Policing Work Group recently completed work on two proposals to reform state oversight of police operations, including recruitment, training, as well as the use of civilian videos in officer misconduct cases. But criminal justice–reform advocates argue that the work group’s proposals do not address the most important reform that needs to be made—giving civilians a meaningful role in police brutality...