Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Views & Analysis

November 15, 2012

Protecting LGBT Families Across the Nation

Since NCLR’s founding 35 years ago, we have worked to advance family law for LGBT people and their families. NCLR has helped change the law in numerous states over the years, including prohibiting courts from taking custody away from a parent just because of his or her sexual orientation, allowing same-sex couples to adopt, ensuring that transgender parents are recognized and protected, and recognizing all non-biological and non- adoptive parents as legal parents of their children.

Although there is still much work to do before every family is fully recognized under the law, we have had tremendous successes in advancing families’ rights. Here are a few of our recent family law victories.

CALIFORNIA

In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill ensuring that same-sex couples and transgender individuals have equal access to the same fertility services available to different-sex couples. Under current law, same-sex couples and transgender people who use a known sperm donor must use frozen sperm, and the donor must be re-tested for STDs each month, while different-sex couples using fertility services are able to access more affordable and effective services using fresh sperm. This new law allows providers to offer this service equally to all couples and individuals. Many lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people conceive children using known donors, and were unable to access this more affordable and effective service. Many intended parents who would not otherwise be able to afford any fertility services will be able to access safer and more effective procedures under this new law. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2013. NCLR co-sponsored this bill, which was authored by Senator Mark Leno.

HAWAII A. and K. are a same-sex couple in Hawaii who conceived a child through assisted reproduction with an anonymous donor. They sought a second parent adoption to protect both of their rights as parents but were denied because they were not married. Although courts in Honolulu had been granting second parent adoptions for years, courts in more rural areas in Hawaii, like where A. and K. lived with their son, had begun denying these adoptions. NCLR represented A. and K. in their appeal. While their case was pending, Hawaii passed a civil union law with all the rights of marriage under state law. NCLR helped them change their case to seek a civil union adoption. Earlier this year, their adoption was granted. It is believed to be the first civil union adoption completed in Hawaii. A. and K. were represented by NCLR and Hawaii Attorney Raymond Zeason.

NEW MEXICO Bani Chatterjee and her partner, Taya King, were in a committed, long-term relationship and decided to raise a child together through international adoption. Because they could not adopt jointly due to discrimination against same-sex couples, only Taya legally adopted their child from abroad. Over the next nine years, Taya and Bani parented their daughter, and Bani supported the family financially. When Bani and Taya ended their relationship, Taya tried to prevent Bani from having any contact with their child. Bani went to court to be recognized as her daughter’s parent and to ask for visitation. NCLR represented Bani in her appeal, and on June 1, 2012, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that when a same-sex couple raises a child together, they are both full legal parents. Bani Chatterjee was represented by NCLR and New Mexico attorneys Caren I. Friedman and N. Lynn Perls, and initially represented by New Mexico attorney Jerome Ginsburg. Learn more about the case.

MASSACHUSETTS

A.E.H. and M.R. are a same-sex couple who registered as Domestic Partners in California   before they moved to Massachusetts. They had two children through assisted reproduction. After the women’s relationship ended, the birth mother tried to prevent the non-biological mother from having any contact with the children. A.E.H., the non-biological mother, asked the court to recognize her as the children’s mother. In September, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that California Registered Domestic Partnerships must be recognized as marriages in Massachusetts, and that both women were mothers of the children. A.E.H. was represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and Massachusetts attorney Patience Crozier. NCLR filed an amicus brief on behalf of 18 California family law professors explaining why California domestic partnerships should be recognized as marriages in Massachusetts.

NATIONWIDE There are numerous other NCLR cases involving LGBT parents that you may never hear about. Cases involving children are often confidential and cannot be publicly discussed. We are committed to taking on cases where we are needed most—regardless of whether we’ll be able to make our involvement known These cases occur all over the country and involve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parents who are being denied custody because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or because they are not biologically related to their children, as well as custody cases involving transgender children where one parent wants to prevent their child from expressing his or her gender identity. Learn more about our Family & Relationships work.

MARYLAND In 2008, Maryland residents Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan traveled to California to marry. Unfortunately, their relationship ended and they made the difficult decision to file for divorce in Maryland in 2010. The court denied their divorce petition, saying that Maryland does not allow same- sex couples to marry. On May 18, 2012, the highest court in Maryland unanimously ruled that Maryland must recognize and protect same-sex couples who marry in other states. NCLR and Maryland attorney Michele Zavos represented Port. Lambda Legal and Maryland attorneys Mark Scurti and Leslie Stellman represented Cowan. Learn more about the case.

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