n an advance that makes history, Vermont‘s House of Representatives passed a bill on May 10 requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled. This is the furthest any such legislation has made it through the legislative process in the United States.
Vermont’s legislative session was due to end already, but negotiations over a tax bill have kept lawmakers in the capitol this week. With the Senate’s attention focused fiscally rather than on food, however, H.112 to label GMOs will have to wait to be taken up by the Senate in January 2014.
The bill would exempt animal products, including meat and dairy, even though livestock are often fed genetically engineered (GE) feed.
State Faces Threat of Monsanto Lawsuit
GMO labeling legislation has been stalled in the Vermont legislature for three years, in part because of a concern that biotechnology companies would sue the state if it passed. The concern seems justified, as Monsanto – the world’s largest GE seed company – reportedly threatened to do so last year.
California’s Prop 37 to label GMOs was narrowly defeated in 2012, as the Center for Media and Democracy reported. Afterwards, Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, who had previously said that Prop 37 “scared us to death,” said in an official statement, “This gives us hope that you can, with a well-funded, well-organized, well-executed campaign, defeat a ballot initiative and go directly to the voters. We hope we don’t have too many of them, because you can’t keep doing that over and over again . . .”
Tens of Thousands to “March Against Monsanto” Worldwide Frustrated with Monsanto’s bullying of governments and farmers in the United States and abroad, tens of thousands of activists around the world will “March Against Monsanto” on Saturday, May 25, according to organizers.
Marches on six continents, in 36 countries, and in 47 U.S. states — totaling events in over 250 cities — are coordinated to occur simultaneously at 11am Pacific time. A Facebook page founded in February has been instrumental in organizing the events.
PARIS — The French Senate on Friday approved a bill to allow same-sex couples to wed and adopt children, leaving France poised to join the small group of nations that have fully legalized gay marriage, despite an unexpectedly vocal campaign by conservative opponents.
A final vote on the legislation, which figured among the campaign promises of President François Hollande, has been scheduled for next week in the lower house of Parliament, where the Senate’s minor amendments are expected to easily pass. Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party holds a strong majority in the lower house, which approved an earlier version of the text in February.
Should the bill pass, parliamentary conservatives have vowed to challenge its constitutionality, though precedent suggests that a rejection by the Constitutional Council, which rules on such matters, would be unlikely.
The French debate over legalizing gay marriage comes as the Supreme Court of the United States is examining a law that prohibits it; one possible ruling in that case, concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, would require all 50 states to allow such unions. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in several American states, some areas of Brazil and Mexico and 12 countries, half of them in Europe.
In France, the left has broadly supported the bill on gay marriage, which many supporters prefer to call “marriage for all.” The country’s largest conservative party, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, has opposed it. There have been a few dissonant voices at both ends of the political spectrum. On Friday, the Senate vote fell largely along partisan lines, 179 to 157.
“You have consolidated and reinforced the republican pact,” Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told the Senate after the vote. In opening marriage to same-sex couples, Ms. Taubira said, “we are simply recognizing their full citizenship.”
There has been marked opposition, however, in a country that remains largely Roman Catholic, with deeply rooted conservative convictions in much of the populace. Opponents of the bill, many of them rallying under a movement called La Manif Pour Tous, or Protest for All, have marched in the hundreds of thousands in Paris and across the country in recent months. Organizers have called for a mass protest next month.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders have also called upon the faithful to protest the legislation, which many opponents cast as a danger for future generations of children who could be raised by homosexual parents. Indeed, opposition has largely focused on the provision, now approved by both houses of Parliament, that would allow same-sex couples to adopt.
It is legal in France for someone who is gay or lesbian to adopt a child, but gays and lesbians may not adopt as couples, with equal parental rights.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 13, 2013, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: French Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage Bill.
Anger at the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” — a biotech rider which protects genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks — has been directed at numerous parties in Congress and the White House for allowing the provision to be voted and signed into law. But the party responsible for anonymously introducing the rider into the broad, unrelated spending bill had not been identified until now.
As Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott notes, the Senator responsible is Missouri Republican Roy Blunt — famed friend of Big Agrigulture on Capitol Hill. Blunt even told Politico’s David Rogers that he “worked with” Monsanto to craft the rider (rendering the moniker “Monsanto Protection Act” all the more appropriate). Philpott notes:
The admission shines a light on Blunt’s ties to Monsanto, whose office is located in the senator’s home state. According to OpenSecrets, Monsanto first started contributing to Blunt back in 2008, when it handed him $10,000. At that point, Blunt was serving in the House of Representatives. In 2010, when Blunt successfully ran for the Senate, Monsanto upped its contribution to $44,250. And in 2012, the GMO seed/pesticide giant enriched Blunt’s campaign war chest by $64,250.
… The senator’s blunt, so to speak, admission that he stuck a rider into an unrelated bill at the behest of a major campaign donor is consistent with the tenor of his political career. While serving as House whip under the famously lobbyist-friendly former House Majority leaderTom DeLay (R-Texas) during the Bush II administration, Blunt built a formidable political machine by transforming lobbying cash into industry-accomodating legislation. In a blistering 2006 report, Public Citizen declared Blunt “a legislative leader who not only has surrendered his office to the imperative of moneyed interests, but who has also done so with disturbing zeal and efficiency.”
Many pro-choice women won their Senate races Tuesday and pro-choice PACs say women punished anti-choice rhetoric. A leading gender-gap analyst says exit polling data suggests it’s still about the role of government.
Both politicians became notorious for comments about rape and pregnancy that turned them into symbols of an extremist anti-choice agenda that in the past year began extending to the formerly safe subject of birth control.
“I think that directly affected their candidacies,” said Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
In Indiana, Mourdock won only 42 percent of female voters, a large gap from Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket, who won 52 percent of women in the state, reported the Christian Science Monitor. That data suggested that some Republican voters split their ticket to lodge a protest.
In Missouri, the percentage of women voting for incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, Akin’s opponent, increased on Tuesday compared to 2006, reported the Associated Press. Younger women and African American women supported McCaskill in large numbers.
But while abortion, contraception, pay equity and even Romney’s debate-night reference to “binders full of women” were significant in swaying female voters, Carroll said those issues do not form the primary national basis of the gender gap.
The real basis, she said, was differing outlooks between men and women on the role of government, with women more inclined to support social safety nets.
On Election Day, CNN exit polling found 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men voted for Obama, producing a 10-point gender gap; the second-largest ever, according to Carroll.
Yet in 2008, Obama won 56 percent of the women’s vote and 49 percent of the men’s vote, meaning that although the gap widened this year, Obama’s share of women essentially remained stable and he slipped among men.
Carroll said that data might suggest the women’s vote was unchanged this year. But she also noted that one could conclude Romney’s economic arguments swayed men, while “women weren’t buying into it.”
More Women in Congress
The election will bolster women’s numbers in Congress.
In January, the Senate will move from 17 to 20 women, as five new women go to D.C. while two–longtime Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas–retire.
Five Democratic women and one Republican woman–incumbent McCaskill and first-timers Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Mazie Hirono, Heidi Heitkamp and Deb Fischer–won their races.
In the House, there will be at least 77 women in 2013, up from 73, giving them 17.7 percent representation in the lower chamber.
While some women’s rights activists are celebrating the gains, Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, president and CEO of the Washington-based Women’s Campaign Fund, which supports pro-choice female candidates, curbed her enthusiasm, calling it “pathetic to be excited about 17 to 18 percent.”
After the “year of woman” in 1992, Bennett said it was widely assumed that the problem of too few women would “organically fix itself.” Since that didn’t happen, she stressed that it remained incumbent upon the women who won to encourage far more women to run for office.
“Research shows that you need to have at least 30 percent of women in the room in order for them to be able to collectively make a difference,” she said.
In New York, longtime anti-abortion rights activist Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle lost to Dan Maffei.
In Illinois, Rep. Joe Walsh–who said during his campaign that he opposed abortion even in the case of the mother’s life because “you can’t find once instance” when that happens – lost to military veteran Tammy Duckworth.
The Women’s Campaign Fund’s Bennett said that anti-choice rhetoric has been growing since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, “which made legislators feel pretty safe coming out in the way they did in this election cycle.” Bennett expects the fallout of the elections to curb anti-choice rhetoric. Whether the GOP will back off anti-choice legislation at the state and federal level is another matter, she says, that “remains to be seen.”
‘Thrilled About Election’
“MomsRising was thrilled about the election,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, president of MomsRising, a nonprofit advocacy group focusing on issues like paid sick leave, parental leave and health care. “Our issues — health care, access to health care, access to reproductive health care — were heard. Fifty-six percent of voting moms cast ballot for Obama,” she said, citing Fox News exit polls.
“I think that this election cycle, more than any I’ve seen in my 20-plus years in politics, truly defined how extreme the anti-choice side has become,” said Beth Shipp, political director of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Women “rejected Republican backwards looking agenda,” said Jess McIntosh, spokesperson for EMILY’s List, the Washington PAC that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women.
But those groups didn’t just rely on the zeitgeist during the campaign; they also spent plenty of money for each of their victories.
“We had our largest independent expenditures in organizational history,” McIntosh said.
Independent expenditures rose significantly due to the impact of super PACs. EMILY’s List super PAC arm, Women VOTE! spent over $7 million.
The PAC itself spent over $30 million this election cycle–more than the roughly $27 million it spent in 2010 but less than the $35 million spent in 2008.
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s independent expenditure arm spent $1.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, compared to $525,000 in 2010. The organization told Women’s eNews that it spent about $3.3 million in all.
The group also identified potential female pro-choice Obama “defectors,” or those who voted Obama in 2008 but were no longer strong supporters, in 25 battleground counties. The organization then worked to persuade these women to vote for the president through a mixture of phone and email outreach, online advertising and cable advertising.
Married Prefer Romney
Broken down by marital status, a small national majority–53 percent — of married women favored Romney, while 67 percent of non-married women favored Obama, according to Washington Post exit polling.
Non-married women came out this election in larger numbers; 23 percent in 2012 compared to 20 percent in 2008.
Democrats picked up about seven House seats –far below the 25 they needed to gain a majority, reportedThe Hill, meaning that the Republican Party maintains control of the House.
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Shipp said of the House elections and pro-choice candidates, “We knew it was not going to be a watershed election,” but that gains were made, arguing, “We did make some significant gains with pro-choice candidates.”
In fact, some of them defeated pro-choice Republicans on Tuesday. Moderate Rep. Judy Biggert, representing Chicago’s southwest suburbs, lost after serving in the House since 1999 to NARAL-endorsed Bill Foster. In New Hampshire, Ann McLane Kuster beat Rep. Charlie Bass–a rematch from 2010, when Kuster lost.
“We are devastated at the loss of Scott Brown in the Senate and our good friends Judy Biggert and Mary Bono, Charles Bass and Robert Dold and Nan Hayworth . . . they were all stalwarts for our cause,” Ann Stone, founder and chair of Republicans for Choice, said in an email interview.
Stone added that, “Several of these pro-choice warriors were wrongly portrayed as not being pro-choice or not pro-choice enough . . . that is disgraceful . . . For them to stand up for this principle in a party which is hostile to them takes a hell of a lot more courage than a Democrat doing so in their party.”
Samantha Kimmey is a writer focusing on women and politics this election season.