The Violence Against Women Act: Twenty Years Later

By: Mallory McGee

On September 13, 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed and this past Saturday marked twenty years since the groundbreaking legislation took the first step in acknowledging and combating the epidemic of violence against women. At the time the law was passed, Vice President Joe Biden was a U.S. Senator, and he helped advocate for the legislation and push it along to President Clinton.

The Act recognized the need for stronger stalking laws, provided legal remedies for battered immigrants, and forced states to honor orders of protection issued by other states.  Funds were allocated for shelters, victim counseling, prevention education, and to assist law enforcement in properly handling domestic violence cases to lead to successful prosecutions and convictions. These programs are known as STOP programs – “Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors.”

Following VAWA, in 1995, the Office on Violence Against Women was created to work within the Department of Justice to process grants and to handle any legal and policy changes surrounding violence against women. In 1996, the National Domestic Violence Hotline began providing victims of abuse with an outlet to provide support and advice, especially in situations that may be particularly volatile.

VAWA was reauthorized for the first time in 2000 and again in 2005. These legislations reinforced all of the original provisions of 1994 and expanded upon them. For example, the term “dating violence” was included along with “domestic violence” and “sexual assault” to now encompass violence by dating partners. The Sexual Assault Services Program, a federally funded program for services for victims of sexual assault was created.… <Read More>

Surrogacy in New York: Not Simple

With the ratings success of the new NBC television sitcom, The New Normal, it might be worth reviewing surrogacy laws in New York to determine whether the process is as simple and quick as the show makes it seem.In short, the show is about Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha), who are a gay California couple hoping to start a family through a surrogate named Goldie (Georgia King). Now, there are two common types of surrogacy: traditional and gestational. Traditional surrogacy involves insemination of the surrogate’s egg with sperm, resulting in the surrogate being the biological mother. Gestational surrogacy involves implantation of an embryo, formed from a donor sperm and a donor egg, into the surrogate, resulting in the surrogate being biologically unrelated to the baby.

New York makes surrogacy difficult because New York’s Domestic Relations Law § 122 states that surrogacy agreements are against public policy. Specifically, the DRL states, “Surrogate parenting contracts are hereby declared contrary to the public policy of this state, and are void and unenforceable.” It also prohibits people from paying or accepting money in relation to the agreement, except for medical fees and hospital expenses. The state can monetarily penalize anyone who pays a “surrogacy fee” or accepts one. This means that if the intended parents and the surrogate mother are from New York, the surrogate does not have to give up the baby despite having signed an agreement. Thus, the intended parents may only work with a surrogate who resides in a state that allows surrogacy and should draft all agreements in the state where the surrogate lives.… <Read More>

Sanctity of Marriage?

In today’s world the phrase “sanctity of marriage” is often thrown around in response to gay marriage legislation, but what does this concept really mean? A variety of explanations may arise, however the idea is pretty straightforward—marriage is a sacred institution.  With changing times and cultural norms, one may wonder, is this notion of the sanctity of marriage still relevant today?

It is shocking how legislators and voters can continue to stand behind the sanctity of marriage as a defense for not passing marriage equality acts. If people are worried about homosexual couples cheapening the marriage institution, one should look to the most recent celebrity scandal of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, ending their highly publicized marriage after just 72 days. This and many Hollywood stories like it, truly begs the question, how sacred is today’s marriage?

If any heterosexual couple can get married or divorced for an array of right or wrong and moral or immoral reasons, why can’t gay couples marry for the right reasons? The institution of marriage used to be about commitment and love to another person until “death do they part”, but as made clear by today’s standards, only half of heterosexual couples actually reach it that far. So wouldn’t homosexual couples that get married until “death do they part” uphold the sanctity of marriage better than all the divorcees of the heterosexual world? A re-evaluation of the idea of what constitutes this “sanctity of marriage” concept is crucial to reflect today’s times.


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Another Marriage Issue: Transsexual Marriage

The popular TV show Dancing with the Stars has been a hotbed for discussion and criticism this season due to one of its contestants: Chaz Bono. Chaz Bono, formerly known as Chastity Bono, is the famous transsexual son of Sonny and Cher Bono. The topic of transsexualism which has been gained a lot of attention in the popular media has also gained attention in the legal sphere and in this month’s New York State Bar Association Journal they ran an article entitled “Planning Considerations for the Transsexual Client.”

The article, written by Caryn B. Keppler, discussed many of the practical difficulties that transsexual clients face. Most notable were the issues relating to marriage. With the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and state mini-DOMAs defining marriage as the “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” the question arises as to what is a man and woman for definition purposes? Is it the biological sex assigned at birth? Or is it one’s current anatomical state? For transsexuals the answer to these questions is often different and can pose unique problems. For example: If you have a male to female transsexual who wants to marry a male is that a marriage between a woman and man or is it a gay marriage/civil union/partnership?

While a handful of states have recognized gay marriage only one state, New Jersey, has provided some legal recognition to a marriage of a post-surigical transsexual. In the case of M.T. v. J.T. the Court recognized the marriage of a male to female transsexual who was married to a male after sexual reassignment surgery.… <Read More>

Gay Adoptions in U.S. Triple, but Inequality Still Exists

Recent studies show that gay and lesbian couples are adopting more than ever. According to UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, the number of children granted to gay and lesbian couples nearly tripled over the last decade. This is definitely positive news for the gay rights movement as well as beneficial to children placed in foster care and adoption agencies.… <Read More>