Why Gay Rights Trump Women’s Rights

Why aren’t we standing up against the assault on women’s rights?

Marilyn KatzApril 17, 2015

Corporations and mainstream LGBT organizations aren't boycotting Indiana for sentencing Purvi Patel to jail for 20 years for a miscarriage. (WNDU)

Well, final­ly someone’s final­ly point­ed out what I (and I imag­ine many oth­ers) have been think­ing about but have been hes­i­tant to point out, while gay rights are doing great, women’s rights have gone down the tube. And, as bad, men don’t seem to care.

I’m ready to have gay rights organizations, the media and corporations, such as Walmart, Google, NASCAR and Angie’s List, be as moved to action by Purvi Patel’s 20-year incarceration as they—and I—are about the refusal of a baker to make a wedding cake for same-sex celebrations.

Bring­ing these nasty inverse trends to light was Gail Collins who in her April 3 New York Times col­umn con­trast­ed the uproar over poten­tial dis­crim­i­na­tion against same-sex cou­ples with the silence that met the pas­sage of new anti-abor­tion laws in Texas and Ari­zona.

While the Indi­ana law cre­at­ed an instant call for boy­cotts and mobi­lized a broad swath of oppo­si­tion—includ­ing from the Indi­ana Cham­ber of Com­merce, so great that Gov­er­nor Pence and the leg­is­la­ture mount­ed a hasty retreat, as did those in Arkansas — not a word of ire was spo­ken about the egre­gious acts in Texas.

Back home in Indi­ana at the same time the wrath of enter­tain­ers, busi­ness lead­ers and politi­cians was focused on the poten­tial harm to gays, Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indi­ana res­i­dent, became the first per­son in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States to be pros­e­cut­ed, tried and con­vict­ed of feti­cide — for what she says was a mis­car­riage and the State argued was an ille­gal abortion.

Yet for this actu­al, not the­o­ret­i­cal, harm to a woman, who was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison, there was no out­cry, no threat of boy­cott and very lit­tle news coverage.

While I and most oth­er fem­i­nists applaud the suc­cess­ful protests against Indiana’s ret­ro­grade actions and have been among the most staunch defend­ers of gay rights — and in fact I would argue that we are the birth moth­ers of the move­ment through our insis­tence on decou­pling sex from pro­cre­ation — I find the dis­parate tra­jec­to­ries of our move­ments and society’s dis­parate response to our injuries more than a lit­tle disturbing.

While same sex mar­riage laws have been approved in 37 states and the Supreme Court is poised to over­turn the laws of the 13 states where such mar­riages were banned, near­ly 100 years after its intro­duc­tion, the Equal Rights Amend­ment for women still languishes.

While I laud the fact that gay men have fought for and won the $24.1 bil­lion that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment allo­cates each year to fight HIV and the 56,000 new cas­es that arise each year, I can­not help but com­pare this amount to the less than $600 mil­lion the our gov­ern­ment spends on breast can­cer for which there are 231,840 new cas­es and 40,290 deaths each year.

While the rights of les­bians and gay men to sleep with whom they wish has been in great part both cul­tur­al­ly and legal­ly enshrined, the rights of women to con­trol both their sex­u­al activ­i­ty and repro­duc­tion are increas­ing­ly under siege.

In the last five years alone 30 states have enact­ed more than 200 dif­fer­ent restric­tions on if, where and when women can obtain a safe and legal abor­tion. And in the first three months of 2015 alone, state leg­is­la­tures have intro­duced more than 300 anti-choice statutes.

And while Indi­ana has now said you may not invoke per­son­al reli­gious beliefs in order to refuse to serve LGBT peo­ple (though you may refuse to enter into a con­trac­tu­al agree­ment with them), 46 states allow indi­vid­ual health care providers to refuse to pro­vide abor­tion ser­vices.

Today, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, less than a third of women live in states where abor­tion is both legal and acces­si­ble, even in the first trimester. 

And that’s just the states. On the very first day of the new Con­gres­sion­al ses­sion, two con­gress­men intro­duced a bill that would make most abor­tions per­formed after 20 weeks of preg­nan­cy ille­gal — in total con­tra­dic­tion to the pro­tec­tions won in Roe v. Wade — and since then have intro­duced 28 more.

Nor is it only women’s right to abor­tion that is under attack. In the first months of this year alone, 16 states passed or intro­duced laws that under the guise of reli­gious free­dom” may allow employ­ers to elim­i­nate con­tra­cep­tion from the insur­ance they offer their employ­ees. Yet, except for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic-backed pro­pos­al made in jest, no leg­is­la­tor has ever ques­tioned insur­ance pay­ments for vasec­to­my — whether from pub­lic or pri­vate­ly issued insurance.

So, what is going on here?

Some have sug­gest­ed that the rea­son the assault on women’s rights have elicit­ed lit­tle or no protest is sim­ply a mat­ter of fatigue — that the bat­tle for women’s equal­i­ty has gone on so long that all have become tired of the issue and immune to the injuries. And there is mer­it to that argu­ment, after all women have been at it for thou­sands of years.

Oth­ers, includ­ing well-mean­ing sup­port­ers, have sug­gest­ed that the women’s move­ment just isn’t as cleaver as the LGBT rights move­ment, and there is mer­it to that argu­ment as well. As a friend remind­ed me the LGBT move­ment in the last 4 or so years has been the prod­uct of a bril­liant strat­e­gy, care­ful­ly con­ceived and well exe­cut­ed” — involv­ing state by state cam­paigns for mar­riage equal­i­ty laws, the amass­ing of mil­lions of dol­lars in polit­i­cal dona­tions, and the strate­gic use of law­suits and referenda. 

Yet call me a cyn­ic, but I think more fun­da­men­tal, issues are at play— the pow­er of mon­ey and nev­er end­ing misogyny.

While women still earn 81 cents on the male-dol­lar, gay men’s indi­vid­ual earn­ings out­pace het­ero­sex­u­al men’s income by $800 a year, straight women’s earn­ings by $18,800 a year and the income of les­bian women by a full $22,500 each year. 

As for house­holds, gay-male-part­nered house­holds earn a full $13,400 a year more than those head­ed by het­ero­sex­u­al men, $27,000 more than those head­ed by les­bian women. 

As to the misog­y­ny — thanks to their lack of self-con­scious­ness (or per­haps con­scious­ness) we’re reg­u­lar­ly treat­ed to the unadul­ter­at­ed sex­ist views of Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors and pun­dits — who blithe­ly talk of women as inca­pable of respon­si­ble sex­u­al behav­ior or ratio­nal choice and speak of those who choose to ter­mi­nate a preg­nan­cy as murderers. 

Yet it’s not sim­ply the fringe that’s the prob­lem. I have a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that while as a soci­ety we may use women’s sex­u­al­i­ty to sell every­thing from cars to buf­fa­lo wings and beer, we real­ly don’t like women actu­al­ly engag­ing in sex on their own terms and hav­ing the abil­i­ty to make cer­tain to sole­ly deter­mine the results of those encounters. 

For me, hav­ing spent 40 or more years fight­ing along my broth­ers and sis­ters for full equal­i­ty for the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty, I’m ready for a bit more two-way solidarity. 

I’m ready to have the NCAA, with their sup­posed com­mit­ment to Title IX, refuse to play in Indi­ana, Mis­sis­sip­pi, Arkansas, North Dako­ta and Ari­zona because these states are open­ly hos­tile to women and our con­sti­tu­tion­al rights.

I’m ready to have gay rights orga­ni­za­tions, the media and cor­po­ra­tions, such as Wal­mart, Google, NASCAR and Angie’s List, be as moved to action by Purvi Patel’s 20-year incar­cer­a­tion as they — and I — are about the refusal of a bak­er to make a wed­ding cake for same-sex celebrations. 

And most of all I’m wait­ing for the kind of Act Up out­rage that the abuse of women sure­ly deserves.

Mar­i­lyn Katz is a writer, con­sul­tant, pub­lic pol­i­cy com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gist and long-time polit­i­cal activist. She is pres­i­dent of MK Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a part­ner in Democ­ra­cy Part­ners and a founder and co-chair of the new­ly formed Chica­go Women Take Action.
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