For a Feminist Wedding, Embrace the Word “No”

Sarah Seltzer

The subject of whether, and how, to marry is never done being debated in feminist circles, so I thought I'd share my own wedding adventure and explain why and how as a pot-stirring feminist, I made the choice to tie the knot.

Earlier this year, I got married in upstate NY, quite close to where Chelsea Clinton tied the knot this past weekend. And although my wedding, on the surface, was obviously nothing like hers, and although I have my own complex mix of disgust and admiration for Chelsea’s mom and dad as politicians, I’m quite happy for them–they get to celebrate their daughter’s life without the rest of us poking in.

And since the subject of whether, and how, to marry is never done being debated in feminist circles, I thought I’d share my own feminist wedding adventure with Rewire readers and explain why and how as a pot-stirring feminist, I made the choice to tie the knot.

To begin with, I never had a bride fantasy. Long ago, when my childhood playmates suggested we put on white dresses and “play bride,” I’d veto the plan. How boring! I loved imaginary games, but I preferred pretending to be be a fairy, a wood-nymph or a heroine to being someone who merely walks down an aisle. This preference translated into a more blatantly feminist persona as I grew older. At the nucleus of the culture of conformist, materialist femininity I have actively deplored here at Rewire and in my own life lies the wedding world and all its rituals, many deeply rooted in sexism. So even years into a long-term relationship that I knew was for keeps, I was hesitant about rushing into matrimony. Was it selling out gay brethren and friends? Bowing to the status quo? And most of all, would I be able to do it without losing something of my strident self beneath a cloud of frills and lace?

And yet, underneath this complex musing lay something stronger than any ideological quibble I had with the notion of a wedding: a desire to give my family my partner and myself a crystallized, concrete memory of fete-ing our love. We’ve all witnessed the way friends and admirers gather to mourn when life is over. If people will come together for sad occasions, I wondered, why should we deny them a happy one? There’s a reason, after all, that everyone loves a wedding, even when it makes them jump through ridiculous hoops, purchase blenders and crock-pots, dress up, travel and make small talk with eccentric great uncles. A wedding proves that life goes on, and love continues. It’s a primal assurance we crave. 

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With two nonagenarian grandparents to watch over us, healthy families, and a nature-ensconced home to host us free of charge, my partner and I began to wonder what we were waiting for. Neither of us had jitters, being products of long marriages ourselves. Plus, I’m a twin–the notion of being attached to someone for life has been part of me since birth. We were proud of how hard we’d worked to forge a partnership of equals. So why not throw a party to celebrate our legal and social merger, and do it in our own egalitarian style?

And so our adventures in feminist wedding planning began: without a proposal, without a ring, but with a dinner where we told both sets of parents and siblings that “we, uh, want to get married next year.” We delayed thinking about details until mere months before the big date. And when we did get the planning process off the ground, we realized that even having an at-home, super-simple, somewhat do-it-yourself wedding required a lot of work. A lot. My parents, my partner and I had to coordinate between dozens of places and people and make decision after decision. I worried about becoming involved with the wedding to the detriment of my work, falling into a serious feminist danger zone.

At times, the process felt like we were censoring a government document with a heavy black pen. We said no to being “given away,” no to the word “God” in the ceremony, no to formal dancing, no to a bridal party, no to cake, or cake-cutting or cake-feeding (we had pies instead!) no to a bouquet or garter toss, and no to bachelor and bachelorette parties or a shower. With my mom beside me, I said no to high heels, to a veil, to an uber-traditional dress, to thick beige goop on my face “for the pictures.” At the last minute, I even said no to doing my hair. I let the curls fall where they did.

Often, we came up against real resistance or confusion–“but you want to be a bride,” said one saleswoman when I stated plans to look at alternatives to classic gowns. “But men really like women with lots of makeup,” said another, when I explained that my spouse-to-be did not. Still, it was clear that despite the over-the-top bridal shows on TV, the world of weddings has actually grown more inclusive. A surprisingly large number of people we encountered excitedly helped us see our quirky vision through. They embraced the pies, the picnic-like atmosphere, the iPod soundtrack accented by bullfrog croaks and even the utter dearth of customs (glass-breaking aside).

By waiting years and years to get married, my partner and I guaranteed that we were enough of a team, secure enough in our joint beliefs, to go through that gauntlet of nos without cracking under pressure. We also made an extra effort to make sure that the social expectations attached to marriage didn’t derail the partnership we’ve forged. I did a few small things to give myself some “equality insurance.” I got my driver’s license (finally! I’m a lifelong New Yorker) and enrolled in a low-residency MFA program so that for the next few years I would have a “room of my own” to focus on my writing away from work and family and everyday life.

And when the day came, it turned out that our saying “no” to everything we deemed retrograde or superfluous helped the things we’d said “yes” to echo that much louder: yes to having my brother as man-of-honor and his (my partner’s) sister as best-woman. Yes to a statement in our ceremony about marriage equality. Yes to merging two boisterous, affectionate clans. Yes to eating and drinking really, really well, for an afternoon. Yes to love, and yes to each other. That was it.

Marriages and weddings aren’t for everyone, nor should they be. But for us, I believe we accomplished something small and personal to advance the idea of marriage as a simple joining of two souls, rather than a gendered custom with transactional overtones. Perhaps that’s a self-serving way of thinking about it, and all our little tweaks merely put a friendly disguise on an insidious set of customs. But someone wisely told me that feeling guilty–a burden often carried by women–doesn’t advance the feminist cause. So most importantly, I hope we left the people we care for with a gift, a flower-and-affection bedecked memory that they can cherish through life’s inevitable dark periods. Conventional though it may be, it’s a gift we chose to give ourselves, and as I get back in the saddle wringing my hands about the erosion of reproductive rights and lamenting sexism in pop culture, I’m already grateful for it. 

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.