Friday, April 17, 2009

Legislative roundup

Obviously, the big legislative news this month comes from Vermont, which became the first state to legalize same-sex marriages without a court order - and over a gubernatorial veto, no less. Much virtual and literal ink has been spilled on this, so I will only comment on the transparent foolishness of Gov. Douglas's justification for his veto. Rather than defend his veto on its merit, Douglas said the legislature shouldn't be spending time on this issue while there are pressing economic and budget matters. They may be logical criticism of the legislature's action, but it is completely illogical as a justification for a veto, which comes only after the legislative effort has been spent, and serves only to set the stage for the legislature to spent more time on an override.

There's lots more to tell. There were big headlines the same week from DC, where the District Council unanimously voted to recognize out-of-district same-sex marraiges, as marriages. When finalized, the measure will of course be subject to an override by Congress, and we will have to wait and see if the Dems can block any such move.

In Nevada, the governor is threatening to veto an impending domestic partnership bill. And in Washington, the legislature has passed an expansion of the existing DP law.

NY Gov. David Paterson has said he will soon introduce marriage equality legislation there. Not clear yet if it can pass the state Senate, which now has a slight Democratic majority. Reproductive rights advocates in New York are also gearing up for the anticipated reintroduction of a Reproductive Health Act, which would codify the right to contraception and abortion New York law, and remove abortion from the state penal code.

On a second vote, the New Hampshire House passed a gender identity antidiscrimination measure last week, by one vote: 188-187. Thus, it appears that the deciding factor in the previous 149-181 "nay" vote was in fact lawmaker turnout, rather than the success of opponents' deceptive messages on bathroom use. That's encouraging.

Earlier this month, North Dakota's Senate rejected by a 2:1 margin a bill that would have purtported to bestow "personhood" on zygotes and embryos. This is yet another defeat for the putative "personhood" movement, but I suspect their aim is less to actually pass legislation than to use these attention-getting bills as opportunities to promote their dressed-up message of full criminalization. Anway, anti-choice groups did get two wins in the state Senate, passing bills that (like one recently passed in Kansas) would require medical facilities to offer ultrasounds before abortions, and (like one upheld by a federal court last year in South Dakota) require doctors to tell patients that abortion terminates a "human life."

In the U.S., private or public insurance coverage for surgery related to gender transition is very seldom available. In Canada and Europe, it's a different story. But in tough economic times, this coverage is, depressingly but unsurprisingly, first on the chopping block. The province of Alberta has now eliminated its public coverage for transition-related surgery. As noted over at Bilerico, this may not be the last word here, since a human rights tribunal in Ontario last year ordered the reinstatement of such coverage there. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan has also eliminated coverage, citing the need to cut costs. As also pointed out at Bilerico, this may not actually make financial sense in the long-term, since cutting off access to surgery can have its own health care costs down the line.

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