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Legislation & Policy

State Policy Working Group

NCLR, along with other national LGBTQ organizations, is part of a State Policy Working Group that addresses proposed state legislation affecting LGBTQ people across the country. The group works to support local advocates in advancing bills to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, healthcare, and other areas, and to allow transgender and nonbinary people to obtain gender marker changes on identity documents.

The group also works to stop the dozens of hostile anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures every year. Among the proposed laws that have been successfully defeated are bills that would permit discrimination against same-sex couples who marry, create broad religious exemptions to existing civil rights protections, allow religiously-affiliated child welfare agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, prohibit transgender people from using restrooms and other facilities based on their gender identity, and deprive transgender youth of access to gender-affirming medical care and participation in school sports based on their gender identity.

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Legislation & Policy

Uniform Laws Protecting Nonmarital Relationships

Few states provide strong protections for people in nonmarital relationships — some states do not even recognize that unmarried couples even have the right to enter into cohabitation agreements. The Uniform Law Commission is currently drafting a Uniform Act, the Economic Rights for Unmarried Cohabitants, to provide a basis for states to provide some recognition for nonmarital relationships. NCLR is an Observer for the drafting committee, providing input and representing the needs of LGBTQ people in nonmarital relationships as the uniform legislation is being drafted.

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Legislation & Policy

LGBTQ Family Law Institute

The LGBTQ Family Law Institute is a joint venture of NCLR and the LGBTQ Bar. The Family Law Institute allows experienced LGBTQ family law practitioners to share collective wisdom and to discuss cutting-edge legal strategies for representing members of the LGBTQ community. Members of the Family Law Institute convene in person annually and collaborate regularly via an online listserve. To find out more about membership or to see a directory of Family Law Institute member attorneys, please visit the LGBTQ Bar.

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Cases & Advocacy

Hogsett v. Neale Amicus

Edi Hogsett and Marcia Neale were a same-sex couple who were together for thirteen years. When their relationship ended, they jointly sought a dissolution of a common law marriage. Later, Marcia argued that she and Edi were not actually married, in part because they could not have legally married prior to marriage equality.

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Cases & Advocacy

Dvash-Banks v. Pompeo Amicus

Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks are a married same-sex couple who had twins through surrogacy in Canada, where they live. Each of them is the genetic father of one of the twins, but both fathers are legally-recognized as parents of the twins. Elad is an Israeli citizen and Andrew is a U.S. and Canadian dual citizen. The U.S. Consulate refused to recognize both twins as U.S. citizens because one child is not genetically tied to Andrew.

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Cases & Advocacy

In the Interest of A.E.

C.W. and M.N. were a married same-sex couple who decided to conceive a child using an anonymous sperm donor. Unfortunately, the couple separated during the pregnancy, but C.W. was present when their baby, A.E. was born, and was involved in A.E.’s care and support until M.N. stopped allowing her to see the baby. Even though Texas recognizes that different-sex spouses who conceive using a sperm donor are parents, the court refused to recognize C.W. as a parent.

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Cases & Advocacy

Turner v. Steiner (Oakley)

Heather Turner and Liza Oakley were a married same-sex couple who had a child using assisted reproduction. Heather gave birth to the child and both parents were listed on the birth certificate. Heather and Liza raised the baby together, with Liza staying as the primary caregiver until they broke up the following year. In their divorce, Heather argued that Liza was not a parent.

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Cases & Advocacy

Pidgeon v. Turner Amicus

In 2013, Houston mayor Annise Parker directed that same-sex spouses of city employees who were legally married in another state be afforded the same benefits as different-sex spouses of city employees. Two individuals, represented by the anti-LGBTQ group Texas Values, filed a lawsuit in Texas state court challenging the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses, arguing that it violated Texas’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples.

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Cases & Advocacy

Pavan v. Smith

The Arkansas Department of Health’s refusal to issue birth certificates naming both parents in a same-sex marriage violated the clear ruling of the United States Supreme Court in its 2015 marriage equality decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, which requires states to treat the marriages of same-sex couples the same as other couples’ marriages for all purposes under the law. NCLR petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2017 overturned the decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

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Cases & Advocacy

Krall v. OPM

In May 2017, NCLR and Teresa Renaker of Renaker Hasselman LLP appealed a decision by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to collect an overpayment of benefits that resulted from decades of discrimination. After 38 years of service, when Ms. Krall notified OPM of her marriage to her loving partner of 21 years, OPM informed the couple that if they elected a survivor pension benefit, the couple would have to first repay hundreds of thousands of dollars of retirement benefits Ms. Krall received as a single life annuity.

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Cases & Advocacy

O’Connor v. Pension Plan for Office Employees of the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York, Inc.

In November 2016, NCLR and attorney Teresa Renaker appealed a decision by the New York Philharmonic-Symphony’s pension plan denying a spousal benefit to Thomas O’Connor, a retired employee, and his husband, Victor Bumbalo. The plan originally denied the benefit on the basis that federal law in effect when Mr. O’Connor retired in 2009 did not recognize the marriage.

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Cases & Advocacy

Reynolds and McKinley

NCLR represents Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley, a same-sex couple who are members of the Cherokee Nation. In May 2004, Reynolds and McKinley obtained a marriage certificate from the Cherokee Nation and married shortly thereafter. The next month, another member of the Cherokee Nation filed a petition seeking to invalidate Reynolds and McKinley’s marriage.

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Cases & Advocacy

Chin v. Armstrong

Florida law requires the Office of Vital Statistics to list a birth mother’s husband on the child’s birth certificate. After Florida gained marriage equality on January 6, 2015, the state was obligated to start providing same-sex spouses with all the same rights given to different-sex spouses. Despite repeated requests, the Florida Office of Vital Statistics refused to recognize same-sex spouses on birth certificates.

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Cases & Advocacy

McLaughlin v. McLaughlin

Suzan McLaughlin and Kimberly McLaughlin were a married lesbian couple who had a child using artificial insemination with an anonymous donor in 2011. The parties separated in 2013 and Kimberly stopped allowing Suzan to see their child. In 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Suzan is a legal parent and in 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Arizona Supreme Court decision to stand.

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Cases & Advocacy

Pritchard v. IUOE Stationary Engineers Pension Plan

On January 22, 2016, the widower of a hotel telecommunications engineer in San Francisco sued the IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan and its Board of Trustees for refusing to provide him with a spousal pension benefit required by the terms of the pension plan and federal law, solely because both spouses are men.

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Cases & Advocacy

Pareto v. Ruvin

On January 21, 2014, six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute filed a lawsuit in Florida state court in Miami seeking the freedom to marry. The lawsuit argued that Florida’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violated the United States Constitution by denying them the legal protections and equal dignity that having the freedom to marry provides.

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Cases & Advocacy

Tanco v. Haslam

On October 21, 2013, NCLR filed a lawsuit on behalf of three legally married same-sex couples, challenging Tennessee laws that prevented the state from respecting their marriages and treating them the same as all other legally married couples in Tennessee. In a historic ruling on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality across the United States.

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Cases & Advocacy

Guzzo v. Meade

NCLR represented four same-sex couples and Wyoming Equality in a federal lawsuit seeking an immediate order directing state officials to comply with two decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit establishing that a state’s refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.

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Cases & Advocacy

Strawser v. Strange

James Strawser and John Humphrey applied for a marriage license in Mobile County, Alabama, but were denied. Strawser faced significant health issues. Despite having a medical power of attorney, Humphrey was told by a hospital where Strawser was receiving medical treatment that they would not honor the document because Humphrey was not a family member or spouse. The couple filed a federal challenge to Alabama’s marriage ban, a companion case to a case filed by Mobile couple Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, who married in California but whose marriage Alabama refuses to recognize.

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Legislation & Policy

Maryland Marriage Equality

Same-sex couples have been able to marry in Maryland since January 1, 2013. On March 1, 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley signed H.B. 438, a bill that allowed same-sex couples to marry. However, opponents gathered signatures to put a referendum that would have repealed the new law on the ballot. On November 6, 2012, the referendum did not pass. NCLR worked as part of a broad coalition to help pass the bill and defeat the referendum.

Even before this law went into effect, Maryland already recognized marriages between same-sex couples entered in other jurisdictions. On May 18, 2012, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (the state’s highest court), ruled in Port v. Cowan that Maryland must recognize an out-of-state marriage of a same-sex couple if the marriage was valid in the state where the couple married. Under the legal doctrine of “comity,” the court held that Maryland must recognize out-of-state marriages for purposes of divorce and for all other purposes, even if the couple could not have entered into the marriage within the state.

Information about relationship recognition in other states .

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Legislation & Policy

Federal Hospital Visitation Rule

The National Center for Lesbian Rights was a lead partner with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the development of the administration’s historic Hospital Visitation Rule. The Rule came at the direction of President Obama who urged HHS to identify ways to protect the hospital visitation rights of all patients through policy change. NCLR worked closely with HHS on the final rule, which guarantees equal treatment in hospital visitation to all patients and their loved ones regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, biological relationship, or marital status. Subsequent to the introduction of that Rule in 2011, we have worked closely with HHS on implementation. We co-hosted a webinar with HHS, which provided education on the impact of the Rule and “Best Practices‚” for working with the LGBTQ community. We continue to work with HHS to clarify that this Rule also applies to nursing homes and hospice facilities.

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Cases & Advocacy

Port v. Cowan

Longstanding Maryland law provides that couples who validly married in another state are recognized as married in Maryland, even if the couple would not have been able to marry in Maryland. Although a trial court found that a same-sex couple met all the requirements for divorce under Maryland law and both wished to divorce, it would not grant their divorce because, according to the court, it would be against public policy to do so. Both women appealed that decision.

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Cases & Advocacy

Atala Riffo v. Chile Amicus

On May 31, 2004, a Chilean Court ordered Karen Atala Riffo, herself a judge in Chile, to relinquish custody of her three children to her estranged husband because she is a lesbian and living with her female partner. The Supreme Court of Chile based its decision on the long-discredited and unsupportable notion that being raised by lesbian parents is harmful for children. With no legal recourse left in Chile, Ms. Atala took her case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCHR) in Washington, D.C.

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Cases & Advocacy

Debra H. v. Janice R. Amicus

Debra H. and Janice R. were a same-sex couple living in New York who entered a Vermont civil union. After Janice gave birth to a child conceived through alternative insemination and the couple separated, Debra continued to visit the child regularly until Janice cut off contact when the child was four-and-a-half years old.

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Cases & Advocacy

Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics

NCLR was a member of a diverse coalition working to achieve and preserve marriage equality for same-sex couples in the District of Columbia. Since 2009, D.C. has recognized the marriages of same- sex couples performed in other jurisdictions. Opponents of marriage equality have made several attempts to put on the ballot initiatives to overturn D.C.’s marriage equality laws.

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Cases & Advocacy

Nancy C. v. Alameda County Fire Department

Nancy C. is an emergency dispatcher with the Alameda County Fire Department who married a Canadian citizen, in Canada, in October 2009. When Nancy learned about the passage of SB 54, the California law requiring the state government to grant all the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples who get married in other states or countries after November 5, 2008, she asked her employer to add her wife as a beneficiary on her health and retirement plans. The human resources department initially told her that they could not do so.

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Cases & Advocacy

Demmers v. Zupancic

Marilynn Zupancic and her former partner Dianne were together for 30 years. Although they could not legally marry in their home state of Colorado, Marilynn and Dianne were partners in every respect. In 2007, their relationship ended and Marilynn was left with full responsibility for the entire mortgage that had paid for Dianne’s education.

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Cases & Advocacy

Hollingsworth v. Perry Amicus

On May 22, 2009, two same-sex couples filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenging California’s Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to prohibit marriage by same-sex couples. California’s Governor and Attorney General agreed with the plaintiffs that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

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Cases & Advocacy

Kerrigan v. Connecticut Department of Public Health Amicus

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot exclude same-sex couples from marriage. The Court held that preventing same-sex couples from marrying is unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court also held that the state’s civil union system for same-sex couples was inherently unequal because civil unions do not provide the same dignity, stature, and respect as marriage.

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Cases & Advocacy

In re J.D.F. Amicus

T.L. and D.F., a lesbian couple, had a child together and entered into a court-approved joint custody agreement. Several years later, T.L. and D.F. separated and agreed to share custody. But in 2004, Ohio’s anti-LGBTQ constitutional amendment excluding same-sex couples from marriage was passed. D.F. began to prevent T.L. from seeing their child, arguing that the amendment invalidated their shared custody order.

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Cases & Advocacy

Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group Amicus

Guadalupe “Lupita” Benitez was denied infertility treatment by her Southern California healthcare providers because she is a lesbian. The trial court rejected the doctors’ claim that they do not have to follow California’s anti-discrimination law because they have religious objections to serving lesbian patients.

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Cases & Advocacy

Bennett v. Bowen

In June 2008, three California voters and Equality California, an organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ people, filed a lawsuit in the California Supreme Court to remove Proposition 8 from the November ballot. Proposition 8 was a measure to change the California Constitution to eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples. The lawsuit argued that the proponents of Proposition 8 did not follow the appropriate rules for revising the California Constitution.

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Cases & Advocacy

Strong v. BOE

Under California law, when a spouse dies and the other spouse inherits the couple’s home, the state will not reassess the tax value of the couple’s home. In 2003, the California Board of Equalization (BOE) adopted a rule that extended a similar protection to same-sex couples. When several county assessors filed a lawsuit challenging this rule in 2005, NCLRand co-counsel represented Equality California and three same-sex couples to defend the rule’s validity.

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Cases & Advocacy

In re Marriage of S.

NCLR assisted S., a transgender father in Chicago. S. has lived his entire adult life as a male and has undergone medical treatment for sex-reassignment. He also had his birth certificate changed to reflect his male gender. S. married in 1985. He and his wife had a child together in 1992 through alternative insemination. When S. filed for divorce in 1998, his wife counter-petitioned to have their marriage declared void and to terminate S.’s parental rights.

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Cases & Advocacy

Koebke v. Bernardo Heights Country Club Amicus

Birgit Koebke and Kendall French, a lesbian couple who have been domestic partners for 12 years, sued the Bernardo Heights Country Club for refusing to provide them with the same membership benefits given to different-sex couples and for allowing other members to harass and insult them because of their sexual orientation.

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Cases & Advocacy

Kantaras v. Kantaras

In June 2005, love, patience, and persistence, combined with a visionary judge and a little help from Dr. Phil, led to an historic settlement agreement between NCLR client Michael Kantaras and his former wife. Michael, a transsexual father, has been fighting for almost seven years to retain his parental rights to his two children, aged 16 and 13.

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Cases & Advocacy

Cozen O’Connor, P.C. v. Tobits

Jennifer Tobits and Sarah Ellyn Farley married in Toronto in 2006. Two weeks after their wedding, Ellyn was diagnosed with cancer. The Chicago couple fought the disease together for their entire marriage, until Ellyn passed away in September 2010. Because Ellyn’s parents had never accepted her marriage to Jennifer, they feared that Ellyn’s parents would make legal claims to their property and generally attack Jennifer’s status as Ellyn’s spouse.

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Cases & Advocacy

Smith v. Knoller

In 2001, Diane Alexis Whipple was killed by two dogs in the hallway of her apartment building in San Francisco where she lived with her life partner, Sharon Smith. NCLR and co-counsel  represented Ms. Smith in a wrongful death case. The defendants argued that Ms. Smith could not pursue a wrongful death claim since the couple was unmarried. In a historic ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge A. James Robertson II held that Ms. Smith was a “surviving spouse” and that any other reading of the law “has no place in our system of government” and would “unduly punish Ms. Smith for her sexual orientation.”

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Supreme Court Rules on Title VII! Give now & Celebrate!