Record Number of Women Sworn in to 113th Congress

Let’s start the new year off with some good news!

Newly elected members of the 113th Congress will be sworn in today, including a record number of 20 women Senators. In fact, the new Congress is the most diverse in history, in terms of race, gender, sexuality and religion. This infographic from Think Progress highlights the diversity within the new Congress. (It also serves as a good reminder that our socially constructed identities of race, gender, sexual orientation, age and faith aren’t mutually exclusive. After all, the category of “women” includes all of the above, and vice versa.)

Also check out this Washington Post photo series of our newly elected female Senators.

Happy New Year 2013!

Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage

Dismal news from the 4th Estate.

Read The Washington Post’s story on this.

Maryland passes marriage equality!

You can now add The Free State to this map! Last night, Maryland became the 8th state in the country to approve same-sex marriage after the Senate approved the legislation 25-22. The final vote came less than a week after the House narrowly passed the bill with one vote above the minimum needed for passage. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will sign the marriage equality law sometime next week, although opponents have vowed to put the new law on the ballot in November for voters to decide.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the new law faces some uncertainty if opponents succeed in putting it on the ballot:

Implementation of the measure is far from certain. Even supporters concede that the law will likely be petitioned to referendum, and they expect Maryland voters to have the final say in November. The legislation has an effective date of January 2013 — well after the November election.

“We move on to the next phase,” said Senate Republican leader E.J. Pipkin, who tried to defeat the bill. “There will be a robust referendum effort.” Recent polls have shown that Marylanders are evenly split on the issue, so it is difficult to predict what will happen at the ballot box.

Possibly having voters decide the fate of a law that was fairly and democratically voted for by our representatives and senators is shameful. We need to hold our government accountable in its role of protecting our civil liberties and equal access to the law, regardless of gender, race, sexuality and religion.

Marriage equality opponents who ask voters to be the arbitrator of civil rights when the law has already been secured is equally horrifying as our neighboring state legislature (I’m looking at you, Virginia) attempting to implement state sanctioned rape and stripping women of their right to privacy when seeking legal abortions. On both sides of the Potomac, it’s conservatives who are intent on trampling the rights of others and fighting the growing wave of support for gay marriage and reproductive rights across the country by any means necessary.

And for what? What are they so afraid of? Because God-forbid we decide for ourselves who to love and marry, or make personal, medical decisions without the intrusion and control of government, when for much of our history, government has strictly regulated who we can and can’t marry and made many of us second-class citizens because of our sex, race and sexual orientation. I thought that the holy Grail of conservatism and Republicanism was less government intrusion in our lives, but it hasn’t been for a long time.

Tomorrow I’m participating in the Young Democrats of Maryland convention in Baltimore and marriage equality is on the agenda. I’m hoping to gain some insight into challenging what will surely be a sustained effort by opponents to garner enough petition signatures to put the law to voters in November. Stay tuned!

Note to U.S. Catholic Bishops: My body is not your battleground for ‘religious liberty.’

We no longer need to worry about U.S. Catholic bishops holding our right to affordable, no-cost contraceptives hostage in the name of “religious liberty,” thanks to the Obama administration’s new decision today to shift the cost of providing women with contraceptives to the insurance companies. Read RH Reality Check’s synopsis of today’s news.

This appears to be a win-win for both sides, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s gratifying to see the Obama administration remain firm in protecting and standing by women’s health for once. It preserves women’s expanded access to health care and allows religiously affiliated institutions to uphold and not compromise their antiquated, anti-woman beliefs.

What has concerned me about this intense debate in the past week is the argument that requiring Catholic universities and other institutions to cover their female employee’s birth control was an infringement on religious liberty and freedom. Last time I checked, religious liberty or freedom as enshrined in our Constitution, allows us to freely practice and follow the faith we choose without discrimination and government interference. Every faith has its core beliefs and teachings that make it undeniably Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. But it’s man-made rules, not holy, divine decrees, commandments and scriptures that control and dictate women’s reproductive choices.

I refuse to believe anything else when I see a small, elite group of celibate (I assume) Catholic bishops hold so fiercely to “church teachings” and ignore the reality that 98 percent of Catholics have widely used contraception (including myself, if you count lapsed Catholics). And never mind that Catholic hospitals and universities have had to provide contraceptive coverage for their Catholic and non-Catholic employees in 28 states. Oh, and having health plans that exclude services that only women use is discriminatory.

Anyway, I digress. For some religious folk, contraceptives will always be morally unacceptable. But what about the rest of us women who are religious, secular or atheist and don’t believe that controlling your fertility is a morally abominable act punishable by God? Is it not hypocritical that the small, mostly male minority of Catholic bishops who cry “religious liberty” are infringing on the rest of the faithful’s religious freedom to think otherwise by preventing them from getting the health care they need? Including the 98 percent of Catholic men and women who obviously don’t follow their church leaders’ teachings?

We live in a complex, multi-faith country where women have diverse, personal beliefs and faith about how best to make their reproductive decisions and futures. (And it’s worth pointing out that not all women who take oral contraceptives are taking it to prevent pregnancy. Women take birth control pills for a variety of hormonal and medical reasons.) If we’re going to argue and defend religious liberty and freedom, then a small, extreme group of right-wing Catholic bishops imposing their view of contraception and women’s bodies on the rest of us – 98% to be exact – is the opposite of religious freedom. It’s religious tyranny. My body is not your battleground for “religious liberty.”

Q: Why Invest in Women?

A: Investing in women’s healthcare, education, social, political and economic equality more than doubles its impact.

I found this beautiful infographic on NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s Facebook page and had to share. I love me some good infographics. What better way is there to artfully and succinctly get a point across?

What It Really Takes…

enough said.