FMF Pulls Event from Beverly Hills Hotel to Protest Sultan of Brunei Imposing Taliban-Like Rule

LOS ANGELES – The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) announced it is pulling its annual Global Women’s Rights Awards, co-chaired by Jay and Mavis Leno, from the Beverly Hills Hotel because the hotel’s owner, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is imposing a Taliban-like Brunei penal code, set to go into effect in three stages beginning on May 1, that includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and the public flogging of women who have abortions.

Instead of holding its annual event at the hotel on May 5, FMF has joined with gay and lesbian groups in protesting this gross violation of human rights and will hold a rally at noon on May 5 across from the hotel, in the park on Sunset Boulevard, urging the Sultan to rescind the new penal code which has been condemned by human rights groups and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. FMF will hold the Global Awards event on the evening of May 5 at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, Los Angeles.

“We cannot hold a human rights and women’s rights event at a hotel whose owner would institute a penal code that fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.

“‘Kill-a-gay’ laws, or laws that allow the flogging of women for abortion, violate international law and have no place in civilized society,” said Feminist Majority Foundation Board Member Mavis Leno. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep concern about the new penal code and stated that such draconian punishments would contravene international law and international human rights.

FMF today launched a massive petition drive and social media campaign calling on the government of Brunei to immediately rescind the new code and asking the United Nations to take action if these laws go into effect as planned.

“The United Nations must condemn the government of Brunei’s plans and explore additional options, including sanctions, if Brunei fails to rescind this decree,” added Kathy Spillar, executive Vice President of the FMF and the event director.

The new penal code is set to be implemented in three phases over three years. The first phase, beginning tomorrow, will include fines and prison sentences. The second phase includes corporal punishment such as amputations and flogging women who have abortions. The stoning to death of gay men and lesbians is slated for the third phase.

Brunei is an industrialized, petroleum and natural gas country in Southeast Asia. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1984. The UN Human Rights Council is scheduled to conduct its Universal Periodic Review of the country this Friday. The Brunei Investment Agency owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Bel-Air Hotel, and other Dorchester Collection Properties. The Agency is managed by the Brunei Ministry of Finance which is controlled by the Sultan.

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Feminist Majority Foundation Applauds Release of First Report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

Feminist Majority Foundation today celebrates the release of the first report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

“The release of this report is an important step in fighting the scourge of sexual assault on college campuses,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of Feminist Majority Foundation. “We are thrilled that the White House is developing concrete actions and guidelines to support survivors and assist universities in preventing sexual assault. No student should have to face sexual violence while at school. Neither should they be abandoned by school officials they trust to protect them.”

The report, titled “Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,” details steps the Task Force will take to prevent sexual assault and support survivors on college campuses, using recommendations it gathered from a wide variety of people during a 90-day review period. Among other steps, the Task Force will pilot and evaluate sexual assault prevention strategies on campuses, provide specialized training for school officials, and make federal enforcement efforts more transparent and clear with the launch of a new website: www.NotAlone.gov.

In January, President Obama created the Task Force and released an initial report that found 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted in college, but only 12 percent of student victims report the assault. In addition, dozens of schools have recently been placed under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases on campus.

The Feminist Majority Foundation, through its network of hundreds of college campuses nationwide, has launched its Campaign to End Campus Sexual Violence to pressure universities and colleges to do more to reduce sexual assault on campus. The Feminist Majority Foundation is participating in several coalitions on many campuses and providing training for student activists to combat this issue.

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Fetal Homicide Bill Passes Florida Legislature, Moves to Governor’s Desk

The Florida Senate voted 25-14 last week to pass a bill making it a separate crime to kill or harm a fetus while committing a crime against a pregnant woman.

Under current Florida law, a person can already be charged with manslaughter or murder if he or she kills a viable fetus. But this new bill, HB 59, expands the penalties to include causing injury or death to a fetus at any stage of development, starting with conception.

At least 38 states have enacted some type of fetal homicide law, and 23 of those laws apply to the earliest stages of development. Supporters of these laws usually promote them as a way to curb violence against pregnant women. The Florida bill was reportedly a response to a woman who lost her pregnancy after a boyfriend tricked her into taking an abortion pill; the now ex-boyfriend was sentenced to 14 years in prison for drug-tampering. But, fetal homicide laws, by creating independent rights for fetuses separate from pregnant women, have proved to be a dangerous proposition.

States have used fetal homicide laws, like the one is Florida, to criminalize pregnant women or poor pregnancy outcomes. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has asserted that since 2005, there have been more than 200 arrests of women based on arguments that purport to treat fetuses separate from pregnant women. Consider Bei Bei Shuai, who in 2012 was charged with fetal murder after Shuai, who was 33 weeks pregnant, attempted suicide. More recently, Alicia Beltran was arrested after after she sought early prenatal care and told health care workers about her prior use of painkillers and her attempts to stop using on her own. Instead of receiving support, a court ordered Beltran to be detained at an inpatient drug treatment program two hours from her home. Despite her loss of liberty, Beltran did not have an attorney at her initial court appearance; but her fetus did.

Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign HB 59.

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ACA Helps Women Obtain Contraceptives With No Out-of-Pocket Costs, Study Shows

A recently released study by the Guttmacher Institute reveals that the proportion of US women who paid zero dollars out-of-pocket for birth control significantly increased after the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee went into effect in August 2012. The proportion of women paying zero dollars for oral contraceptive pills increased from 15 to 40 percent, and the proportion of those paying zero for vaginal rings increased from 23 to 52 percent [PDF].

“Our analysis provides the first quantitative evidence that the cost-sharing protection under the ACA is indeed working as intended,” says Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. “Large numbers of women who couldn’t previously do so are now obtaining birth control without co-pays or deductibles, which allows them to more easily attain contraception’s well-documented health, social and economic benefits.”

The researchers, however, found that there has not been a significant change for injectable or IUD users, even though the ACA guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles. The findings suggest that some private insurers may not be applying the ACA’s mandate to the full range of contraceptive methods available. “Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence from media reports and from health insurance companies’ own publicly available documents suggest that some plans are improperly requiring cost-sharing in circumstances where they shouldn’t,” said Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at Guttmacher and study co-author. “This is unacceptable, and state and federal policy makers should step up enforcement as needed.”

The US Supreme Court will also soon determine how many women will benefit from the ACA birth control benefit. In November, the Court agreed to hear a challenge to the ACA contraceptive coverage provision. The Court will decide whether for-profit companies can assert religious objections in order to opt-out of the provision’s requirements and deny this coverage to their female employees.

The Feminist Majority Foundation launched a petition to send the Supreme Court a clear message that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Sign our petition, leave stories,and tell the Court why birth control coverage matters to you! You can also share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!

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Albuquerque Residents Vote On 20 Week Abortion Ban Today

Residents in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico will vote on a ballot measure today that, if passed, would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation without exceptions for the life and health of the mother or survivors of rape or incest.

The New Mexico state legislature has generally been able to block anti-choice legislation, but out-of-state anti-abortion activists were able to collect enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, eliciting a special off-year election. “These efforts callously disregard the personal circumstances that surround a woman’s decision to end her pregnancy,” writes Respect ABQ Women, a group of allied women, families and organizations dedicated to protecting the decision to end a pregnancy and keeping it between women and their doctors. “The out-of-touch groups behind this ballot measure don’t care about women’s health or safety; their only goal is to judge our families and make it impossible for women to access safe and legal abortions.”

Only about one percent of abortions in the US take place after 20 weeks gestation, and women usually decide to have them because of fetal anomalies, a risk to their health or life, or other often difficult reasons.

This measure is particularly significant because both Texas and Arizona have strict regulations on abortion that force women from across the region to travel to New Mexico for reproductive health care. Albuquerque is the only city in the Southwest where women can terminate a pregnancy past 20 weeks gestation, but if this measure passes, many women would have to travel even further for reproductive health care. In addition, the measure is unique for going through a city legislature rather than through the state, and it could inspire other anti-abortion extremists in cities around the US to attempt the same strategy.

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Senators Introduce Pro-Choice Bill to Combat TRAP Laws

In response to a national abortion ban introduced by Republicans last week and three years of state legislative attacks on access to abortion, a group of Democratic, pro-choice Congress members introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 to the Senate on Wednesday.

The act would prevent states from passing Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, also known as TRAP laws. TRAP laws attempt to create barriers to abortion access by creating extraneous regulations for providers, such as requiring specific dimensions for clinic restrooms or mandating doctors performing abortions to enter into transfer agreements with a local hospital.

State legislatures have attempted to undermine a woman’s right to abortion in record numbers over the past three years. According to Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post, since 2010, some 54 abortion clinics have closed their doors across the nation due to restrictive legislation. Recent legislation in Texas alone has led to 12 abortion clinics closing, and cuts in funding in Texas have led to over 50 family planning clinics that do not perform abortions closing recently.

In 2011 through 2013, some 178 abortion restrictions were passed by state legislatures and signed into law. These are the highest numbers since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 45 states and the District of Columbia have laws subjecting abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not imposed on other medical professions.

“Our bill would stop states from subjecting reproductive health care providers to burdensome requirements that are not applied to medical professionals providing similar services,” Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Judy Chu, who are both co-sponsors of the act, wrote in the Huffington Post. “Our bill will nullify dangerous regulations that stifle access to abortion care and endanger women.” Blumenthal and Chu were joined in introducing the act by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as well as Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL).

It has been almost a decade since federal proactive legislation protecting abortion access has been passed. The last time was the passing of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994.

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NC GOP Official Resigns After Racist Interview on Voting Laws

A North Carolina GOP activist and county GOP executive committee member resigned after making racist comments in an interview on The Daily Show last week. In the interview, Don Yelton unabashedly makes racist comments and reveals that the true purpose of the state’s new voting laws is not protection against voter fraud but voter suppression. A video clip of the interview immediately went viral.

In the interview, Yelton says that the recently enacted voter suppression law is “going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” and if the law hurts college kids too “lazy” to get photo IDs or “lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.” He shares more offensive opinions about race for several minutes. Yelton then suggested that although he has been “called a bigot before,” he is actually not racist because “one of my best friends is black.”

North Carolina’s new voter suppression laws reduce the number of early voting days, prohibit same day voter registration, and prevent 16 and 17 year olds from pre-registering. Voters will also be required to show government-issued photo ID at the polls before being allowed to vote, but college and university IDs will not be accepted.

These restrictions on voting significantly constrain the ability of certain groups to vote, including racial minorities, women, and students. According to the Brennan Center for Justice [PDF], 25 percent of eligible African-American voters, 18 percent of people aged 65 and up, and many students do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name.

The North Carolina GOP has distanced itself from Yelton, saying in a press release that his comments were inappropriate and that he does not speak for the local or state GOP.

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Number of Homeless Students in US Has Increased, Hit Record

New information released by the United States Department of Education reveals that a record high number of public school students were homeless last year.

Over 1.1 million students enrolled in preschool or K-12 during the 2011-12 school year were homeless, comprising two percent of all public school students. The data (see PDF) shows a 10 percent increase in the number since the previous year, and a 72 percent increase since the recession started in late 2007. North Dakota is the state with the largest increase in its homeless student population, with a 212 percent increase from last year. But overall, California, New York, Texas, and Florida have the highest numbers of homeless students.

At night, 75 percent of these students double up in places with other families, while 15 percent stay in homeless shelters, 6 percent stay in hotels or motels, and 4 percent are unsheltered–meaning they may stay in cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers, or abandoned buildings.

Federal investments in children and families significantly help to keep kids out of poverty and at a lower risk for homelessness. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, currently in use by over 47 million Americans, reduced childhood poverty in 2012 by 1.67 million children. Despite these benefits, the House of Representatives recently voted to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP for the next ten years, totaling a $40 billion loss for the program.

“Headlines are filled with indicators that the economy is improving, but the record numbers of homeless students show that children and their families are still feeling the effects of a tough economy,” Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions, said in response to the data. “We can protect our homeless children by protecting investments in their housing, education, nutrition, and health in upcoming federal budget debates.”

This data does not reveal the full extent of homelessness in the US. It is estimated that around 3.5 million individuals overall experience homelessness in a given year, though exact numbers are hard to come by.

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Kansas Judge Hears Arguments in Abortion Clinic Stalking Case

Kansas judge James Beasley heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether to dismiss a protection order that an abortion clinic director filed against anti-abortion extremist Mark Holick.

Julie Burkhart, director of the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita and executive director of Trust Women, an organization dedicated to protecting women’s access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, won the temporary protective order in March against Holick, the Wichita regional director of extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. As reported in Ms., Holick distributed WANTED-style flyers with Burkhart’s picture and home address on them, and in February 2013 he positioned a large sign at Burkhart’s home, which she shares with her husband and young daughter, that said “Where’s your church?” – interpreted as a reference to the 2009 assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church. Burkhart had worked closely with Dr. Tiller and considers him a mentor. Burkhart’s clinic is located in the same building that housed Dr. Tiller’s clinic, and Holick has said that he meets and corresponds with Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who murdered Dr. Tiller.

Holick argues that his behavior is constitutionally protected free speech.

“Anti-abortion extremists using violence, stalking, and threats should not be able to hide behind the first amendment,” said Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “These intimidation tactics must end.”

Anti-abortion protestors are also using free speech arguments against a Massachusetts clinic buffer zone law. Buffer zone laws have been enacted – and constitutionally upheld – in several states and localities to protect doctors, patients, and clinic staff from anti-abortion intimidation and violence. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this term whether the Massachusetts law is constitutional.

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Malawi Launches Campaign with UNFPA to Promote Condom Use

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Malawi government launched a new national campaign to promote condom use among young people as an HIV/AIDS prevention measure.

HIV prevalence among people aged 15-49 in Malawi is at 10 percent, according to the Malawi 2012 Global AIDS Response Progress Report [PDF], with higher prevalence rates among women than men. HIV prevalence for young people with multiple partners is around six percent. The government attributes the problem, in part, to low condom use. The campaign therefore aims at increasing public awareness of condoms and combatting perceived stigma around using condoms.

Although aiming to increase condom use, the UNFPA and Malawi government announcement did not address a major challenge to HIV/AIDS prevention in that country – low condom supply. The Malawi government has previously indicated that condom shortages and stock-outs have impeded efforts to control HIV.

Persistent condom stock-outs in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 69 percent of all people living with HIV reside [PDF], have long been a problem recognized by international experts. In 2011, Carolyn Ryan, MD, MPH, Director of Technical Leadership at the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator called the problem “really quite disturbing,” as condoms are a major tool for HIV prevention. Lack of condoms can be attributed, in part, to inadequate donor support from the international community and the influence of conservative religious ideologies on international family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.

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Nationwide Immigration Reform Protests Continue

A wave of protests have swept the nation as immigration reform activists grow frustrated with the slow progress of immigration reform.

Protests have been held in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington, among other states. Most recently, a group of demonstrators in Tucson, Arizona locked themselves to the tires on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bus taking people to Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline is a federal program that apprehends immigrants crossing the border, sentences them to jail time, then deports them, often in one day. The program has deported at least 70,000 people and has been criticized as unconstitutional by the Warren Institute at the University of California Berkeley School of Law.

During a rally last Tuesday in Washington, DC, eight members of Congress were arrested in in an act of civil disobedience. The Congress members joined thousands of activists in blocking the streets near the National Mall to send the message to lawmakers to act on immigration reform. The Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June, but Republican House leaders have not scheduled floor time for immigration bills, and have previously been unwilling to consider it.

Women are especially at risk if the current immigration reform plan dies. Among other positive changes, the reforms will, for example, double the number of U-visas–reserved for people who have been victims of crime in the U.S. and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement–from 10,000 to 20,000, and expand their scope to include victims of workplace abuse. U-visas provide a lifeline for undocumented women stuck with abusive partners, who may threaten to report them to police or withdraw their sponsorship petition. In the past three years, all 10,000 available U-visas have been used.

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Texas Health Care Providers File Lawsuit To Protect Abortion Access

Last week over a dozen women’s health care providers in Texas filed a joint lawsuit to immediately block two provisions of a law that would reduce women’s access to safe and legal abortion.

Texas House Bill 2 gained national spotlight after Texas state Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) held a marathon filibuster to defeat the bill. It passed after Governor Rick Perry called a second special session after the filibuster and signed it in July, despite opposition by 80 percent of Texas voters and medical experts across the country. Planned Parenthood v. Abbott aims to block the portions of the bill with the most immediate impact before they take effect at the end of October: restrictions on the use of medication abortion, and a requirement that physicians who provide abortion must obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital–even though abortion is an extremely safe procedure, and other medical providers do not face the same requirements.

These restrictions would make “essential reproductive health care services for many Texans, especially poor and rural women, practically impossible to access,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton filed the suit on behalf of the health care providers.

Northup added, “Today’s lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health, and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda.”

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US Justice Department To Sue NC Over Voting Law

The US Justice Department sued North Carolina yesterday over the state’s new restrictive voting law.

The lawsuit challenges four parts of the new law: the photo identification provision, the shortening of the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early-voting period, and the prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct.

These types of voting restrictions disproportionately affect the ability of racial minorities, students, and women to vote. As many as 25 percent of eligible African-American voters and 16 percent of Hispanics do not have government-issued photo identification that would allow them to vote in states with strict voter-ID laws. Many students who vote in their college communities do not have IDs that would allow them to vote in these states, and in one survey, 34 percent of women voters did not have an ID that reflected their current name. Restrictions on early voting have also been shown to place unnecessary burdens on the ability of these groups to vote.

“Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in remarks yesterday.

The state’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed the law last month, claiming it would protect against voter fraud. However, a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, found that voter fraud is extremely rare.

The Justice Department will also ask the court to require North Carolina to get preclearance before making any more changes to its voting laws. Previously, several states and parts of states that have histories of discrimination were required under the Voting Rights Act to obtain approval before changing any voting laws. The Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder this June requires that Congress create a new formula for determining which states must obtain this preclearance.

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Impact of Government Shutdown Felt by the Most Vulnerable

The US government shut down today after the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’ measure that would keep the government operating for 10 weeks in exchange for a delay in implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, over 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed and a variety of government services will be put on hold.

Historically marginalized communities and the working poor are most likely to feel the negative effects of the shutdown. Around 20 out 1,600 Head Start programs will shut down right away, and more will be affected over time. The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food if they are poor and facing “nutrition risk,” could shut down for lack of funds. And there will be delays in processing new disability benefit applications, student loan and federal grant applications, home loans, and new visa and citizenship applications. More programs may lose funding or shut down if the government impasse lasts longer than a few days.

In a statement at the White house yesterday, President Obama said, “Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you ‘give’ to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility.”

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NJ Court Orders State to Allow Gay Marriage

A New Jersey court ruled on Friday that state officials must allow same-sex couples to marry beginning October 21, stating that the current civil union system deprives same-sex couples of equal protection under the law. A spokesman for Republican Governor Chris Christie said the state would appeal the decision, but did not say whether it would seek a stay to delay the ruling from taking effect.

Judge Mary Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County found that denying marriage equality to same-sex couples violated the New Jersey state constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court had previously considered the issue in 2006. Although stopping short of finding that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry, the state supreme court, in Lewis v. Harris, ruled that committed same-sex couples must have the same legal rights, benefits, and privileges as heterosexual married couples. In response, the state legislature created a new civil union law.

In her ruling, Judge Jacobson found that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor this June, same-sex couples in New Jersey could never access federal marital benefits. “Under these circumstances, the current inequality visited upon same-sex civil union couples offends the New Jersey Constitution, creates an incomplete set of rights that Lewis sought to prevent, and is not compatible with ‘a reasonable conception of basic human dignity,'” she wrote, quoting Lewis.

If the ruling stands, this will be the first time a state has lifted a ban on gay marriage as a result of Windsor, which struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively conferring federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, but not to same-sex couples in civil unions. It will also make New Jersey the 14th U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex couples to marry.

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NC Elections Board Decides on Student Voting Rights Cases

Yesterday, North Carolina’s State elections board made decisions on two controversial voting rights cases that significantly affect college students.

The first decision was to allow Montravias King, an Elizabeth City State University student, to run for a city council seat. He was originally disqualified from running because Pasquotank County Republican Party Chairman Richard “Pete” Gilbert challenged that King could not use his on-campus dorm address to establish residency. The State elections board decided unanimously to allow him to run for the seat representing the campus.

The second case the elections board examined was the closing of an early voting and general election polling place at Appalachian State University by the Watauga County Board of Elections in Boone. The Watauga board had also combined three precincts into one voting site with only 35 parking spots to accommodate those of 9,300 voters. This site is a mile from the university campus on a road with no sidewalks. Students suspect the Republican-controlled boards made these changes to make it harder for students to vote, because the university community voted for the Democratic ticket in the last two presidential elections. In the hearing yesterday, the state board voted 4-1 to uphold these changes.

Watauga County Democrat Kathleen Campbell said, “To eliminate the most popular and most accessible voting location is to deliberately disenfranchise a major segment of the voting population.”

College students from all over North Carolina attended the meeting to voice their opinions. “We have a voice in our community, and it’s important that we be heard, because it’s our future. I believe that we should have a say,” said Jarius Page, a junior at Saint Augustine University, Raleigh.

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Study Shows an Increase in the Gender Pay Gap for US Doctors

A study published on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the gender pay gap for doctors has increased over the past few decades. Female doctors, accounting for one-third of US doctors, currently make $50,000 less per year than male doctors. The median annual income from 2006 to 2010 for female doctors was $165, 278 while male doctors made $221,297– a 25 percent difference in income.

From 1987 to 2010, researchers conducted a nationally-representative survey with questions about income and other aspects of work. About 6,300 doctors and 32,000 other healthcare workers were surveyed. Hours worked and years of experience were taken into account when analysing the data, but specialty and type of practice were not. Women are more likely to be in family medicine or pediatric care, while men are more likely to be in surgery and other higher-paid specialties. This gender difference in specialty, which could be affected by preference, discrimination, or both, may have a major impact on the income difference, so future research is warranted.

Dr. Anupam B. Jena, the study’s senior author from Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy, said implicit biases could prevent women from entering higher-paying specialty fields. He told Reuters Health, “It could very well be the case that male and female pediatricians and male and female surgeons earn the same amount of money. But if it’s more difficult for females to enter surgery, then their access to higher-paying fields would be lower.”

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Married Gay Couples Will Get Equal Tax Treatment

All married same-sex couples, regardless of what US state they live in, are entitled to the same federal tax benefits extended to married opposite-sex couples, effective September 16.

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday that legally married gay couples will be able to file taxes jointly and claim marriage-related exemptions, credits and deductions even if they live in one of the 35 states that does not legally recognize gay marriages. They may also retroactively file amended tax returns for the past three years to get possible refunds.

The policy change comes after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor that invalidated the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act defining a marriage as between a man and a woman.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the decision “assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

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US Won’t Challenge State Laws Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would not interfere with state laws legalizing recreational marijuana.

Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use in November 2012. The Justice Department could have sued the two states to prevent the laws from taking effect, because marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Instead, the Obama administration decided to give them room to experiment with recreational use legislation, within limits. Colorado and Washington will still be required to have regulatory systems in place to enforce eight areas, including distribution to minors, driving under the influence, trafficking by gangs.

The Obama administration has been deliberating for almost a year about how to handle the growing movement to legalize marijuana. Younger voters between the ages of 18 and 44 are driving the movement, exemplified in exit polls from the Colorado and Washington amendment votes. President Obama said in December, “It does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that’s legal”.

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Wal-Mart Extends Benefits to Employees’ Domestic Partners

Wal-Mart recently announced that the company will provide health insurance for their employees’ domestic partners including LGBT partners as part of an updated benefits package that also includes vision insurance, coverage for some surgeries, and incentives to quit smoking. Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer with a staff of 1.3 million people, more than half of whom rely on Wal-Mart’s health care plans.

The benefits will apply to unmarried partners living together in an ongoing committed relationship, who have been together for at least 12 months, and who plan to continue living together indefinitely. Whether they are a same sex or opposite sex couple does not matter. The benefits will take effect in all 50 states, regardless of each state’s definitions of marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union.

The benefits update is a “business decision” for the sake of keeping up with competitors and ensuring consistency across markets, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove.

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