I make no secret of my interest and admiration for the USA; it’s such a diverse and fascinating country that seems almost alien to us, yet we have so much in common with them. Today two great things happened and both were because of strong and gutsy women.
Firstly the horrible Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down by the US Supreme Court – this was a bill that would not allow same sex couples to have the rights of heterosexual couples in the eyes of the law. While it doesn’t overturn the bans on same sex marriage in thirty states, it does mean that in these states where it is legal to get married those people also have the same safeguards and protections regardless of sexual orientation. It now is a matter of time before we start seeing more and more states allowing gay people to legally and publicly declare their love for each other. It’s not a massive legal victory beyond allowing equality in states that already believe in equality, but what it does do is makes clear that on American soil all are equal in marriage and this is a message and beacon that will become more important in the coming years.
It all started with 83 year old Edith Windsor from New York who challenged the system when she lost her partner Thea Speyer and was told to pay nearly a quarter of a million pounds in inheritance tax – something which would not have happened in a heterosexual marriage. Her bravery and openness is a credit to the US and the decision will help all those who make the commitment to the one they love in the future. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the ruling: “”Doma writes inequality into the entire United States Code. Under Doma, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. Doma’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.” Now it has been successfully challenged that means that other decisions across the country will be overturned.
The second story that shows that while it is unusual, the US Filibuster rule is a great one at times. Wendy Davis, the Democratic State Senator for Texas stood and talked for over ten hours to stop a bill from becoming law closing all but five abortion clinics in the state and reduce abortions to twenty weeks as well as several other Republican endorsed policy. Even though abortion has been legal across the US for forty years now the more conservative states are trying in anyway they can to tighten the rules ad regulations to effectively ban it. In North Dakota they passed a law to ban abortions as soon as a foetal heartbeat was audible which could be as early as six weeks. While there probably will be a second vote in Austin Texas on the bill at least the pro-choice lobby through Senator Davis has a chance to stop it for the moment.
While I’m a straight an and neither of these issues directly affect me or my life, it is important that the country that is held up as the leader of the free world follows and honours that title. It should be a woman’s choice guided by medical facts that determine the need for abortion and not politicians trying to rewrite history. In the same way to refuse access to basic legal rights because of sexual orientation is wrong and I’m glad that a line has now been drawn under that. If the west and especially America want to go around the world extolling the values of a free and democratic society they must be willing to allow their own people those right also.