Author: Suzanne Kim

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What’s in a Name?

Friday’s New Jersey Superior Court decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow holding that equal protection requires the extension of marriage to same-sex couples was an important victory for marriage equality overall and for recognition of the importance of naming. The decision arises at a time when debate continues over whether the New Jersey legislature will override the gubernatorial veto of the last year’s Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, which would have extended the title of marriage to same-sex couples in New Jersey.

 

Seven years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded in Lewis v. Harris that the equal protection challenge to the state’s refusal to marry same-sex couples could be separated into two distinct issues – (1) whether same-sex couples had an equal right to the rights of marriage; and (2) whether they had a right to the title “marriage.”  As to the first question, the court easily concluded that same-sex couples were entitled under equal protection principles to the benefits and privileges of marriage.  But as to the second question, the court was careful to maintain a distinction between substantive rights and naming.  In deferring to the legislature, the majority chose not to “presume that a difference in name alone is of constitutional magnitude.”

 

The question of access to the title of “marriage” has often focused on the social costs associated with being labeled something other than married.  In her stirring dissent from the court’s deferral of the naming question in Lewis v. Harris, then-Chief Justice Poritz identified the stigma and devaluation flowing from giving same-sex couples a title other than marriage.  I have written more extensively about this issue elsewhere.

 

The decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow highlights the substantive costs (apart from the social ones) of failing to use the term “marriage.”  With DOMA’s Section 3 in place prior to Windsor, committed couples in New Jersey—in marriages or civil unions—were similarly, if not equally, situated regarding substantive rights and privileges.  But with Section 3 invalidated and many federal agencies conferring federal benefits only to married same-sex couples, not couples in civil unions, New Jersey’s committed same-sex couples do not receive equal protection as promised by Lewis.  The decision underscores just how much there is in a name.

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Considering Criminality in the Sale and Purchase of Sex

The New York state court system this week unveiled its Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative to expand a network of pilot courts specially aimed at linking prostitution defendants with a range of social services, and offering the potential for non-criminal dispositions or reduced charges for these defendants.  The program represents an important step toward addressing the exploitation of women, men, and children through sex trafficking.  The recognition of coercion in the sex trade and of the coexistence of prostitution with needs for housing, healthcare, immigration assistance, job training, and drug treatment echo reforms in the domestic violence context to create more integrated judicial approaches to addressing the needs of victims.

 

These reform efforts raise the question of how much attention should be paid to the market supporters of the sex trade.  Law enforcement has tended to focus on sellers of sex, rather than its purchasers, although every state in the U.S. but Nevada criminalizes both the sale and the purchase of sex.  Our American approach, however, is not self-evident.  Sweden criminalizes patronage but not prostitution, akin to many European countries.  The NY reforms suggest further thinking about allocation of criminal responsibility.

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Neutering Parents: Parents’ Sexual Liberty and Marriage

Recent reports of a Texas state court order requiring a divorced custodial mother’s cohabiting female partner to stay away between 9 pm and 7 am while the children were in the home brings to mind the continued discrimination against same-sex couples and same-sex couples with children through custody law, despite major strides on the marriage access front.  In my 2012 article The Neutered Parent, I explore the ways in which custody law has historically been used to enforce norms of sexuality against women and sexual minorities, particularly to discipline sexuality into a marital framework.  The problem with this judicial action, of course, is that same-sex couples may not marry in Texas.  The wider availability of marriage, however, would not necessarily diminish the assumption inherent in such “morality clauses,” that parental sexuality is best pursued in a marital context.  Broader access to marriage/marriage rights, including as conferred by the federal government following Windsor, should prompt us to consider with greater attention the rights of parents outside of the marital sphere.  Analysis of the latest Census data highlights the class-based disparities in who gets married and who doesn’t.  Nonmarital parents constitute a significant and growing percentage of parents.  These reports raise the question of how custody law should address such realities of contemporary family life.  Is the answer to bring more parents into the marital fold?  The Texas case suggests continued reliance on heterosexual, marriage-based norms of parental sexuality.  As I discuss in The Neutered Parent, the ALI’s 2002 amendments to custody provisions pertaining to parental sexuality fail to foreclose the types of thinking that animate discriminatory custody decisions.  While the ALI suggests focusing on parental “conduct,” rather than relying on biased assumptions about how parental sexuality and nonmarital sexuality pertain to children’s best interests, the ALI might provide more explicit criteria for what qualifies as relevant conduct.  Without such clarification, actions that might not read as “sexual conduct” in a marital setting, like a parent’s private consumption of pornographic material, might look like evidence of relevant conduct in a nonmarital setting.  This is because of what I describe in The Neutered Parent as the perceived “sexual salience” of nonmarital parents in judicial determinations of custody.  Greater clarity regarding relevant parent conduct can better serve sexual liberty interests as promised by Lawrence v. Texas.

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Service with a (Surgically-Induced) Smile: Gender Norms at Work

I am so delighted to be guest blogging for Concurring Opinions this month and to be part of this exciting community.  This month, I will be blogging on various intersections of law, social norms, gender, sexuality, family, and work.  I have been researching some of these issues for my book project on Gender and Social Norms in Same-Sex and Different-Sex Marriage (contracted with NYU Press).  Although today’s topic is not part of this book research, it takes up many of the concerns that animate my work.

 

Recently, a plastic surgery procedure that has gained popularity among South Koreans has gained some major media attention in the U.S.  The procedure, technically called Valentine anguloplasty and sometimes colloquially called a “smile lipt,” is supposed to lift the outer corners of the lips into a smile, even when the putative smiler is not actually smiling.  According to a South Korean plastic surgery center promoting its smile procedure, people of Korean descent like myself have shorter mouths and lower mouth corners than “Westerners,” which means that I and others similarly situated supposedly have a greater tendency to look like we’re frowning.  “Perma-smile” to the rescue.

 

Considering the United States’ status as a world leader in the consumption of plastic surgery, one would think that Valentine anguloplasty would hold some appeal, even to the blessedly long-mouthed.  But based on the American media reaction, what’s been dubbed “joker lips surgery” is not likely to catch on any time soon.

 

Smile surgery has actually been around for decades and isn’t just a recent invention of South Korean plastic surgeons.  The response to this latest supposed craze, though, is what interests me more than the procedure itself.  No, not many of us want to look like this.  But while the origins of this photo are murky, the hypocrisy of the reaction to South Korean women wanting to look smiley is clear.

 

What strikes me is how narrow the chasm is between the perma-smile of Valentine anguloplasty and the social norms that compel those of us not in South Korea, particularly women, to smile – a lot.  Psychologists Marianne LaFrance, Elizabeth Paluck, and Marvin Hecht found that women smile more than men, particularly when women and men think that they are being observed.  This effect corresponds with numerous studies with which LaFrance, Paluck, and Hecht engage concerning social expectations for women to smile and penalties imposed on men for smiling too much. Others have written cleverly about the common form of street harassment consisting of ordering women to smile.

 

Women pay the price of not smiling (or of the much-memed “bitchy resting face”) on the street and in the workplace every day.  People like nice women.  And the smile is a proxy, although often a sloppy one, for that niceness.

 

For a woman to smile all the time, especially in the workplace, is — to borrow from Devon Carbado, Mitu Gulati, and Gowri Ramachandran — to perform “gender comfort,” easing the way for women’s presence.  What’s already a treacherous climb for women up to leadership positions in firms and corporations is made even more difficult by the added load of having to be smiley and perky all the while.  Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has identified the strains posed by such “emotional labor,” particularly for flight attendants expected to smile continuously to project concern, friendliness, and other emotions not necessarily felt all the time but considered necessary for the job.

 

We see the legal imperative and effect of the smiliness social norm historically and contemporaneously.  I recently watched the excellent PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America (2013), which reminded me of the 1950s expectation for those women living the post-war American Dream to be cheerful, smiley, and content.  Sixty years later, the norm persists.  Social expectations for women’s comportment often influence their willingness to negotiate, to ask for more, to complain.

 

In the context of the workplace, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, setting the statute of limitations for a pay discrimination case from each new paycheck affected by the discriminatory action, is an important step in remedying discrimination of which a plaintiff may be unaware.  But it also importantly accounts for the social dimension of that unawareness.  When one is socialized to be nice, it is difficult to suspect wrongdoing, even if it occurs over years.

 

Despite advances like this, social science accounts of workplace dynamics, particularly in the context of negotiation continue to give pause.  While women suffer opportunity- and pay-wise from failures to negotiate, they also suffer when they do negotiate.  Hannah Riley Bowles, Linda Babcock, and Lei Lai demonstrate in their research that women are judged more harshly than men for initiating negotiations for higher compensation, with perceptions of “niceness” and “demandingness” explaining resistance to female negotiators.  In recognition of the threat posed by women seeking higher pay, one approach is Sheryl Sandberg’s in Lean In, advising women negotiating pay to smile frequently.

 

This is all terribly depressing when I think of legal and social change.  We teach young women to be assertive, but they will likely be judged for being “agentic women.”  When we think about women in the workplace, perhaps then it makes sense that some would try to create through facial alteration what many “Westerners” are able to achieve more easily without going under the knife and paying $2000 – a permanent smile and all that comes with it.  :)