Tell the United Nations: Protect #MyBodyMyRights!

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I’ve just come from opening week at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), when thousands of women’s rights activists and member state delegations descend on New York to review the current state of affairs for women and girls globally and recommend actions states can take to advance gender equality and promote female empowerment.

Many of the events this week are calling attention to sexual and reproductive rights as a primary barrier to development progress and the enjoyment of rights and dignity for all. The priority theme for the CSW this year is a review of progress for women and girls under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

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Get Ready to Celebrate LGBT Pride Month!

amnesty_activistsBy Emily McGranachan, Member of Amnesty International USA’s LGBT Human Rights Coordinating Group

It’s almost time to get out your boa, rainbow sunglasses, and camera, and download Amnesty International USA’s 2013 Pride Tool Kit for activists! Pride season will soon be upon us in June. Whether you prefer to celebrate at home with an informative documentary or by marching through the streets completely covered in body paint, it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights. That’s the beauty of LGBT Pride Month. It is a time to celebrate who you are, ally or activist, homebody or exhibitionist.

Pride events are primarily a place where LGBT communities celebrate who they are and create positive visibility for a community that has suffered greatly under a cloak of invisibility. Some events feature over-the-top parade floats, drag costumes, dance, music and great festivities.

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What Marriage Equality Means to Me

The Marriage Equality Bill, proposed by Labour MP Louisa Wall, passed the vote by 77 votes to 44 meaning same-sex marriage will now be legal in New Zealand (Photo Credit: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images).

The Marriage Equality Bill, proposed by Labor MP Louisa Wall, passed the vote by 77 votes to 44 meaning same-sex marriage will now be legal in New Zealand (Photo Credit: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images).

By Lexie Matheson, Academic and Program Leader for Amnesty International New Zealand at AUT University

On Tuesday April 17, New Zealand became the 13th country to legalize same-sex marriage as the Marriage Amendment Bill passed its third reading 77-44. The law will take effect in August 2013 and will allow same-sex and transgender couples to marry.

Marriage means an awful lot to me.

It hasn’t always, but when I met my spouse, I knew that this was the path I hoped we’d walk together. Things worked out, and despite a 30-year age difference and the odd gender peculiarity, we married in Te Whare Karakia o Hato Pateriki raua o Hato Hohepa – otherwise known as St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral – in central Auckland.

We were able to marry because my spouse Cushla is a natal female and I was born biologically a male, even though I identify as female and had, by that time, already begun my gender transition.

We were legally able to marry because my birth certificate said I was male even though I’m not and the church treated us as they would any other heterosexual couple, despite knowing from day one of my intention to transition. This was in 2001 and Marriage Equality was no more than a twinkle in the eye of New Zealand society – and possibly not even that.

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SCOTUS, It’s Time for Marriage Equality

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).

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.

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7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

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Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

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.

INCOMPLETE

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.

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Can Election Day Votes Bring Human Rights To The USA?

voting booth

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. © AFP/GettyImages

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.

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Federal Court’s Marriage Equality Ruling: A Victory for LGBT Rights

© Getty Images

On Thursday a U.S. federal appeals court in Boston struck down the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, in a ruling that is a victory for both marriage equality and for human rights.

The court’s decision, which will not go into effect immediately, paves the way for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of DOMA as early as next year.

“Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest,” wrote Judge Michael Boudin in the ruling. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Marriage Equality: It’s About Human Rights, Not States’ Rights

Maria Vargas and Maira Garcia wait on line to get married at the City Clerk's office in Brooklyn, New York, on July 24, 2011, the first day gay couples were allowed to legally marry in New York state. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

President Obama’s courageous statement today in support of marriage equality was a boon to the human rights movement. The president’s announcement was especially heartening following the news yesterday that North Carolina passed a ban on marriage for same-sex couples and other partnership agreements and that Republican state legislators effectively blocked the Colorado Civil Union Act from going to a vote.

The president’s statement is also an important act of global human rights leadership that will no doubt lend hope to lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in countries like Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Cameroon who face threats of execution, torture, imprisonment and persecution for their sexual orientation.

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Maryland: Will Death Penalty Repeal Follow Marriage Equality?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks ©AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, marriage equality became the law in Maryland with Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature.  Death penalty repeal is another issue the Governor says he feels strongly about, and he should push for the chance to sign that into law too.

In 2009, Maryland legislators tried to create the perfect death penalty law, one that would not risk executing the innocent.  Of course, human beings are still running Maryland’s capital punishment system. Mistakes will be made, and that awful risk remains. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST