Gay & Lesbian Rights: A Guide for GLBT Singles, Couples and Families

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Sember, an attorney turned writer whose practice focused on individual and family rights, outlines legal issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, addressing concerns related to health benefits for partners, protection under hate crime laws, domestic partnership, child and adult adoption, and divorce and custody. Tip boxes highlight pending legislation and online resources, and appendices provide state-specific laws and contacts and list organizations for information and support. Annotation...
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Sember, an attorney turned writer whose practice focused on individual and family rights, outlines legal issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, addressing concerns related to health benefits for partners, protection under hate crime laws, domestic partnership, child and adult adoption, and divorce and custody. Tip boxes highlight pending legislation and online resources, and appendices provide state-specific laws and contacts and list organizations for information and support. Annotation ©2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572483316
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.01 (w) x 8.97 (h) x 0.72 (d)

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Gay & Lesbian Rights

A Guide for GLBT Singles, Couples and Families
By Brette McWhorter Sember

Sphinx Publishing

Copyright © 2003 Brette McWhorter Sember
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1572483318

Chapter One


In recent years there have been gradual changes in the law, slowly acknowledging, and beginning to accommodate members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (GLBT) community. Change, however, is never fast enough. While there are adoption rights, civil unions in one state, and benefits from some employers, the changes have not been far-reaching enough to allow gays equal rights.


The most common and blatantly anti-gay types of laws are sodomy statutes. Sodomy laws prohibit anal and sometimes oral intercourse (the laws vary by state) and make these private acts a crime. There is a perception among many straight people that these laws are not enforced or are only enforced in cases of forcible sodomy (as part of a rape or sexual assault). In fact, these laws are sometimes invoked against consenting adults (such as part of a police operation to stop solicitation) and have the effect of branding consenting adult sexual behavior as criminal and encouraging anti-gay discrimination. Enforcement of the laws has also been used as evidence to support employment discrimination and discrimination in custody proceedings.

Furthermore, those convicted of sodomy are considered sex crime offenders and have to comply with state sex offender registries (often known as Megan's Law) and community notification. They also often feel as if their privacy has been completely violated and must deal with resulting feelings of anger, guilt, and resentment. These laws stand as a clear sign to the GLBT community that they are not accepted by the straight establishment.

Sodomy laws impose fines or jail terms of up to twenty years upon conviction, making them not only laws of prejudice, but also laws of great injustice. In 1986, the United States Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick upheld Georgia's law against sodomy and decided that there is no fundamental right to engage in consensual homosexual sodomy and that the right to privacy does not include the right to engage in this activity. This ruling still stands, but a new pending Supreme Court case from Texas will test the Texas law. Lawrence and Garner v. Texas challenges the Texas sodomy law used to convict two men who engaged in consensual sodomy in the privacy of one of their homes.

States that have specific laws against consensual sodomy between same sex partners are:

* Kansas;

* Missouri (The law remains in effect, but a 1999 case held it
does not apply to consensual relations. It continues to be used
in some jurisdictions in Missouri.);

* Oklahoma; and,

* Texas (Currently prohibited in Texas, the law will be considered
by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence and Garner v.
. Read more about this case at

States that prohibit consensual sodomy between same sex and opposite sex couples are:

* Alabama;

* Florida;

* Idaho;

* Louisiana;

* Mississippi;

* North Carolina;

* South Carolina;

* Utah; and,

* Virginia.


Throughout this book we will look at the state of the current laws and how they impact your life. You probably will not agree with the way many laws are written (since there are not too many that are pro-gay) and probably will feel that gays are often treated as second class citizens.

We can work to change this. Get involved on the local level with area pride organizations. Become a member of state and national pride and gay activist organizations (check the resource appendix for more information). Contact your state and federal representatives with your concerns about how your rights are being violated. Ask family members and friends to do the same. Things can only change if gay voices are heard and if public awareness is increased.


Another way to increase awareness and stand for gay rights is to actively support your local gay community. Many communities have gay phone books, often referred to as the Alternative Phone Book, Lavender Phone Book, or Pink Pages, that list businesses that support gays. Seek out businesses, service providers, and suppliers who support the GLBT community. In some communities, businesses will display rainbow stickers on their doors or windows as a signal that they are gay friendly. Check for local pride contact information.

When you support businesses that support the community, you add resources to the GLBT community. You show other businesses that they are missing out on the economic benefit the gay community can provide.

Gay communities can have a powerful economic impact simply by choosing to patronize businesses that support the GLBT community. Advertising and media specialists are just beginning to understand the power of "DINK" (Double Income, No Kids-which is often an accurate way to describe gay couples). Use your resources to support your community and refuse to work with merchants who will not support it. Look for your local gay phone book, seek out local or regional gay magazines or newspapers and patronize the advertisers. In Britain, the financial effect of the GLBT community is called the "pink pound."


"Voting with your feet" is an old saying that means if your vote does not count, pick up and move to where it does. For example, since Vermont passed the civil union law, many gay couples have chosen to move to Vermont or at the very least, visited there to take advantage of the law.

Voting with your feet is a choice you have. However it is important to remember that you should not have to pick up and move because politicians in your local area have failed to recognize your rights. You should have access to equal rights wherever you live. Many gay couples do prefer to move to a locale where they feel more accepted. They often choose to first find personal comfort and then work to change laws throughout the rest of the country.

Canada is becoming an option for more and more people, as there are rapid changes happening there with regard to gay rights. Recently, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that marriage could include same sex couples, but suspended the ruling for two years to give the Canadian federal government time to rephrase its definition of marriage. The issue is far from decided, but steps have been taken in the right direction.


Although this book is designed to give you the information you need to solve a lot of problems on your own, you may at some point find yourself in a situation where you need an attorney. Situations such as adoption, discrimination lawsuits, probate of wills, dissolution of civil unions, and contested division of property after a break up will probably require an attorney. If you have an attorney that you have used for other matters, talk to him or her about the current situation. Find out if he or she can recommend another attorney qualified to handle this matter if he or she is not.

Lambda Legal is an organization dedicated to handling gay and lesbian cases, but you may find that the organization can help you only if your case will be an important one-one that sets new standards. You can however contact their regional offices to see if they can provide you with a list of attorneys in your area to contact. The same holds true for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). These and other GLBT resources are included in Appendix E.

To find legal help in your area, talk to local pride leaders and if your area has a gay phone book check there. Word of mouth is a good way to find an attorney who is experienced in handling cases that involve gay issues. If you are unable to find an attorney in this way, you can contact your local or state bar association for a referral to an attorney experienced in handling your type of case. If you do call for a referral, make it clear that you are specifically looking for a gay-friendly attorney.

If you cannot afford an attorney, contact your local legal aid office and find out if they will accept your case. In addition, many bar associations have volunteer lawyers programs. Your local bar association can offer information about this.

When you meet with an attorney, ask point blank if he or she is comfortable working with a gay client and if he or she can handle your case with enthusiasm. You have every right to find an attorney who supports and respects you.

Chapter Two


Unfortunately, discrimination is still a problem for the GLBT community. Understanding your rights is your first line of defense and encouraging your state and federal representatives to introduce and support legislation preventing discrimination based upon sexual orientation is the way to make changes happen.


Discrimination occurs when you are treated differently than other people because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender/transsexual. Any time someone treats you differently because of this, it is discrimination. However, legal protection exists only in certain circumstances.

Discrimination with No Recourse

Jacques and Wil walk into a restaurant holding hands. The hostess gives them a shocked look and asks them to wait a few minutes for a table. As they wait, they notice other people coming in and being seated. After ten minutes, Wil asks when their table will be ready. The hostess tells him they are quite backed up and it will be a few minutes more. They decide to wait. They are finally seated in the rear corner of the restaurant. The server is unfriendly and forgets to bring them napkins, doesn't fill up their water glasses, and doesn't stop by to check how their food is. Other servers stare at them as they are eating. They leave the restaurant feeling distinctly unwelcome.

Discrimination with legal recourse (in some states)

Suzanne and Brandy are looking for an apartment where they can live with their 4 year old son. They go to see an apartment with their son along one day. While the landlord is showing them the apartment, their son refers to one of them as "Mommy" and the other as "Mama." The landlord asks, "What, are you gay or something?" They respond that they are. He immediately shows them out and tells them he does not rent to their kind.

To determine whether you have been legally discriminated against, you need to understand what specific protections your state offers and determine if your rights have been violated under those laws.


There is no federal law that prevents or punishes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. While there are laws that prevent discrimination based on sex, this does not offer protection based on sexual orientation.

The Federal Fair Housing Act does prohibit housing discrimination based on HIV status (defined as a "handicap" under the law), thus you cannot be denied a rental because you are HIV positive or have AIDS.


Where the federal government has failed to act, many states have stepped in and enacted laws offering protection against discrimination. These are discussed in detail later in the chapter. Many municipalities and counties have enacted local laws prohibiting this kind of discrimination. For a list of these current municipalities, see

If you have been the victim of discrimination and your state offers protection, contact your state human rights department or the state attorney general for information on how to file a complaint or bring a lawsuit. You can also contact Lambda Legal at or 212-809-8585 or contact any of the other GLBT legal organizations listed in Appendix E.

If your state does not offer protection, contact your state senator and state representative to express the need for such a law. If you have been discriminated against and your state does not offer protection, you may still be protected if some other basis for discrimination was present, such as sex, age, or national origin.

In the following sections, we will look at the specific types of protections offered by various states. These laws can be found on your state legislature's or attorney general's web sites and also at You can also find a list of state by state GLBT discrimination cases at

Housing Discrimination

Housing discrimination occurs when a GLBT person is denied housing or is held to different standards or requirements-such as higher rent, a larger security deposit, or a rule about no overnight guests.

While the federal government does not offer protection from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, the following states do:

* Connecticut;

* Hawaii;

* Maryland;

* Massachusetts;

* Minnesota;

* New Hampshire;

* New Jersey;

* Rhode Island;

* Vermont;

* Washington D.C.; and,

* Wisconsin.

NOTE: Connecticut, Minnesota, and Rhode Island also extend protection to TG individuals.

If you experience housing discrimination in one of these states, contact your state's housing department to report the incident. If your state does not offer protection, you should still contact your state's housing department and make it clear that this form of discrimination is happening. Only by making people aware can things be changed.

Not all housing discrimination occurs at the time you attempt rent a unit. Sometimes a landlord learns or figures out that tenants are gay and attempts to terminate the lease. A lease can only be terminated for the reasons listed in it. Usually these reasons include nonpayment, creating a nuisance (being gay is NOT a nuisance), or violating one of the terms of the lease. If your state has anti-sodomy laws, being gay can possibly be used as a reason (since the landlord can say you are committing an illegal act).

If you do not have a lease and your agreement is month-to-month it means that either you or your landlord can decide to end the lease with one month's notice. The landlord does not have to give you a reason for this. Even if he or she tells you it is because you are gay, you do not have much recourse, unless your state prohibits housing discrimination.

Credit Discrimination

Credit discrimination can include being denied credit, being subjected to additional scrutiny, higher interest rates, or different terms.


Excerpted from Gay & Lesbian Rights by Brette McWhorter Sember Copyright © 2003 by Brette McWhorter Sember
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Dedication ix
Acknowledgements xi
Preface xiii
Introduction xv
Chapter 1 Gay in the U.S.A. 1
Sodomy Statutes
Changing the Laws
Supporting the Community
Voting with Your Feet
Getting Legal Help
Chapter 2 Protection from Discrimination 7
What is Discrimination?
Federal Protection
State Law Protections
Hate Crime Laws
Discrimination in the Military
Discrimination by Private Organizations
Chapter 3 Home Sweet Home 19
Home Sharing
Chapter 4 Dealing with Finances 27
Considering Joint Ownership
Joint Bank Accounts
Joint Investments
Joint Credit Cards and Debts
Safety Deposit Boxes
Life Insurance
Powers of Attorney
Living Trusts
Chapter 5 Health and Medical Issues 37
Health Insurance
Long-Term Care Insurance
Viatical Settlements
Emergency Contact Cards
Health Care Directives, Living Will, and Health Care Power of Attorney
Hospital Visitation Authorization
Partner Notification Laws
End of Life Issues
Chapter 6 Benefits, Insurance, and Legal Protections 51
Employment Protection
Domestic Partnership Benefits
Life Insurance
Auto Insurance
Homeowner's and Renter's Insurance
Pensions and Retirement Programs
Domestic Violence
Public Assistance
Chapter 7 Domestic Partnerships 65
Adult Adoption
California Domestic Partnerships
Other Domestic Partnership Registries
Commitment Ceremonies
Domestic Partnership Agreements
Chapter 8 Vermont Civil Unions 77
Meaning of the Law
Civil Union Benefits
Civil Union Ceremony
Dissolving a Civil Union
Effect of Civil Union in Other States
Chapter 9 Name and Gender Changes 83
Choosing a Name
Legal Name Change
Name Change by Use
Transsexual Name Change
Gender Change
Other TG Issues
Chapter 10 Estate planning 91
Intestate inheritance
Guardianship of Children
Living Trusts
Powers of Attorney
Joint Ownership
Chapter 11 Becoming a Parent 97
Foster Care Parenting
Egg Donation
Egg Nuclear Transfer
Choosing an Adoption or Reproductive Rights Attorney
Chapter 12 GLBT Parenting 111
Your Child's Sexuality
Role Models
Dealing with Discrimination
Safe Schools
Summer Camps
Parenting after a Break Up
Chapter 13 Ending a Domestic Partnership 119
Ending a Relationship that had no Written Agreement
Ending a Relationship with a Written Agreement
Coping with a Break Up
Chapter 14 GLBT Rights in a Traditional Marriage 129
TG and Marriage
Alimony and Fault
Talking to Your Kids about being Gay
Glossary 137
Appendix A Vermont Civil Union Law 147
Appendix B Vermont Town Clerk List 157
Appendix C California Domestic Partnership Law 189
Appendix D State Departments of Vital Records 193
Appendix E Resources 203
Appendix F Blank Forms 225
Index 251
About the Author 267
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2003

    Want to know your rights? Here are your answers!

    This book provided the answers I needed! My partner and I are considering adoption, but were a little nervous. This book helped to get us started with clear, concise information that even I could understand. And the Rainbow Tips are great!

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