Why Gay Rights Trump Women’s Rights

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

Marilyn Katz

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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