Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).
By Emily McGranachan, Member of Amnesty International USA’s LGBT Human Rights Coordinating Group
Today the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments on two pivotal cases involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The focus of today’s hearing was on California’s Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the California Constitution by defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. The state constitutional amendment has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals courts and supporters of marriage equality hope it will be struck down entirely.
Tomorrow the court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. There is a great deal in the news about both cases and what they could mean for LGBT rights. The decisions made by the Supreme Court will have real impacts on individuals, children, and families, regardless of their sexual orientation.
We did it! The groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was just passed by the House of Representatives and will now be sent to President Obama for his signature!
It’s been a long road to victory. I wrote earlier this year about the indefensible demise of VAWA in the last Congress. The last Congress missed a momentous opportunity to stand up for the safety of all women. So women – and men – stood up for themselves; on February 14, 2013, Amnesty International joined the One Billion Rising movement to stand up, walk out, and dance to end violence against women globally. We called for Congress to quit the partisan politics and finally pass a Violence Against Women Act that included ALL communities.
Since then, we have seen the new Congress introduce and pass VAWA in the Senate and now the House has followed suit.
Patricio Vindel, the Executive Director of OPROUCE, an LGBT rights organization in northern Honduras, received several text messages threatening his life last fall. The situation escalated dramatically on January 22, when unidentified individuals broke into the organization’s yard and spray painted, “Patricio, you are going to die” on the office wall.
On February 14th, Amnesty will join with V-Day in the One Billion Risingcampaign to dance in solidarity with the estimated one billion women and girls who have experienced violence in their lifetime.
Violence against women is one of the world’s most pervasive human rights abuses. It is also one of the most hidden. Globally, one woman in three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime and yet, justice for these abuses is all too rare.
In the U.S., the Violence Against Women Act is a groundbreaking law that helps break the cycle of impunity for violence. Currently up for reauthorization in Congress, you can add your voice to ask for immediate action.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
As the clock counted down the few remaining minutes of the 112th Congress, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) failed to reach the finish line in a politically and ideologically divided Congress. Since 1994, VAWA has ensured that millions of women who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support that they need through legal and social services. After 18 years of bipartisan support, Congress’s failure to reauthorize VAWA is an outrageous and indefensible roadblock to the goal of ending violence against women and fulfilling the right of all women to live lives free of intimidation and violence.
Inexcusably, House Republican leaders’ opposition to full inclusion of all at-risk communities eventually doomed the legislation. Congress’s inability to act means that millions of women and men will be left without access to some of the critical resources and protections contained in VAWA reauthorization.
The following post is by Sarah Deer, an Assistant Professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council.
As citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, I am extremely concerned that with only three weeks left until the end of the year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has yet to be reauthorized. There are three new critical protections in the Senate-passed version of the bill that seek to protect particularly vulnerable communities – LGBT people, immigrant women, and Native American and Alaska Native women in particular – but Native American women are in danger of being left out.
Unfortunately, as efforts to push VAWA to the finish line have resumed, some House Members are attempting to remove protections for Native women from VAWA. This is unacceptable: all women deserve equal rights and protection under the law.
Turkish homosexuals and human rights activists chant slogans as they hold a giant rainbow flag during the Gay Pride Parade march on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, on June 27, 2010. Photo credit MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
Subject to state harassment and widespread discrimination, the Turkish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community faces dangers on all sides.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we wanted to pause and give thanks to our members and supporters for helping to make freedom and justice possible for countless people this past year. Here are some highlights of the successes and progress you helped to make possible.
Jean-Claude Roger Mbede of Cameroon
Release of prisoners of conscience
Facing calls from around the world, governments released numerous prisoners of conscience in 2012. From a young activist in Azerbaijan who protested the government, to a student in Cameroon who was imprisoned on charges of “homosexuality” to an Egyptian blogger who criticized the army’s abuse of peaceful protest, the power of your voices helped open prison doors for individuals at risk around the world.
A visit from a human rights hero
On her first visit to the U.S. in more than 20 years, Burmese democracy leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Amnesty Ambassador of Conscience Daw Aung San Suu Kyi joined Amnesty International USA to inspire the next generation of human rights activists in a town hall meeting with young people at Washington, D.C’s Newseum. We were both grateful and humbled by her presence.
In 1941, FDR enunciated the Four Freedoms, signalling U.S. commitment to basic rights for all. In 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt led the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document for human rights in the modern world. But despite these hopeful beginnings more than half a century ago, a culture of respect for human rights has not taken root here in the USA. The seeds were planted, but the soil has not been fertile.
From torture and executions to discrimination in things like education, or even marriage, the U.S., at the federal and state level, often engages in policies that are willfully contrary to human rights norms accepted (if not always practiced) in much of the rest of the world.
That’s why, in Maryland and California, it is extremely important that those of us who want to establish a real culture of human rights here in the U.S. get out and vote.