Paralegal Guide: Gay and Lesbian Legal Resources
When same-sex marriage is permitted in Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire; banned constitutionally in most Southern and Midwestern states; forbidden by statutes in others; recognized in New York, Maryland, and New Mexico; and subject to mixed laws all along the West Coast, the rights of America’s Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community are a matter of great legal complexity. Once an attorney or law student takes into account hate crimes, discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS, immigration of LGBT people from less tolerant nations, and issues such as adoption and civil unions, the legal needs of America’s millions-strong gay and lesbian population require entire institutions of specialized legal practices.
Fortunately, these institutions are well-represented online in the form of advocacy groups, firms that cater to gay and lesbian clients, numerous legal publications, collections of legislation pertinent to the LGBT community (DOMA, Varnum v. Brien, etc.), and other resources. The following sections survey some of the largest and most important of these. They have been screened for their relevance to law, as this page is a division within a broader resource for attorneys, students, and other legal professionals. A section for AIDS/HIV is also included even though clients who have this disease may not consider themselves LGBT. The legal rights of HIV victims are discussed on most LGBT websites and the condition, according to the CDC, disproportionately affects the gay community.
Although there hundreds of associations in the U.S. who advocate on behalf of LGBT clients, the following are some of the higher profile groups, and groups that focus specifically on legal battles. Organizations that primarily specialize in same-sex marriage or AIDS/HIV are not included in this section, as there are separate sections devoted to them. However, nearly all of these groups provide advocacy on these two issues, in addition to immigration, hate crimes, and workplace discrimination. The National LGBT Bar Association is a bit different in that its focus is on legal professionals instead of clients.
- Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, is an organization of attorneys who not only defend LGBT interests, but also anyone afflicted with HIV or AIDS. GLAD is a 30-year-old organization centered in New England that specializes in hate crime, work discrimination, marriage, immigration, and other issues.
- The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission takes an active approach in calling attention to laws and crimes that target the LGBT community and advocating on its behalf. Besides providing a great deal of information about the issues that gays and lesbians face, reports and newsletters are available as well.
- Lambda Legal represents LGBT clients, and those with HIV or AIDS, in lawsuits involving equal rights. The group also spreads awareness of these issues by publishing fact sheets, Impact magazine, legal information, and notifications about events and volunteer opportunities.
- LGBT Rights, a special section of the American Civil Liberties Union website, keeps track of current legal and legislative battles in the U.S. concerning gay and lesbian issues, including tax laws for same-sex couples and censorship of LGBT media. Each issue is given a short profile and then is followed by a list of recent developments. Legal documents are available on the website as well.
- The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is an activist organization whose main mission is to influence government policy in favor of LGBT rights. Although the group seeks to empower activists who may have any level of expertise, its pressure on governments is also of concern to legal professionals.
- The National LGBT Bar Association, rather than advocating on behalf of clients, supports LGBT law students and attorneys in attaining fairness in their legal practices. The organization gives out awards, accepts donations, provides legal resources, and helps facilitate law students’ education.
AIDS and HIV Resources
According to the CDC, over half of new cases of HIV in the United States in 2006 were gay men: about 30,000 Americans. In a 2008 study, the CDC found that almost half of the men diagnosed with HIV from a sample of U.S. cities were not aware that they had the disease. For those who do know, workplace discrimination and other kinds of alienation are commonplace, which makes funding a lifetime of treatment all the more difficult. Fortunately, lawyers such as David W. Webber and firms that operate within specific regions, such as the ALRP, help to ensure that AIDS/HIV-affected clients are accommodated and afforded equal rights.
- The AIDS Legal Referral Panel focuses primarily on the San Francisco Bay Area, advocating on behalf of AIDS-afflicted clients in tens of thousands of incidents since 1983. Besides connecting clients to low-priced attorneys, the organization also provides legal education so that customers are aware of their rights.
- AIDSLEX serves mainly as a community legal resource, allowing activists and others with a stake in the rights of those with HIV, or who are vulnerable to contracting it, to exchange legal information. Discussions on lawsuits, state-sanctioned discrimination, criminalizing the transmission of HIV, and other topics dominate the website.
- HIV among Gay, Bisexual, and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) is a fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows the statistical prevalence of the condition in this demographic, the CDCs efforts to lower the risk, and preventative measures. This is not a legal resource, but is crucial to understanding the level of consciousness about AIDS in the gay community.
- HIV & AIDS Law and Policy: An Overview of Workplace Laws and Policies is a brief description of all the laws that may affect the employment of someone afflicted with AIDS or HIV, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and others. Links to each of the applicable laws are available.
The following websites host either academic articles or legal documents. Daniel R. Pinello’s website, for example, includes full texts of court decisions and other official papers from both the state and federal level. The law section from The Advocate contains journalistic articles that are accessible to the lay audience, while both current (Lesbian/Gay Law Notes) and archived (The National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law) legal journals are available for free. Finally, Sexual Orientation and the Law keeps track of articles from all manner of law publications, not just those that specialize in LGBT issues.
- 150 Edited American Appellate Cases Adjudicating Lesbian and Gay Rights Claims, compiled by author Daniel R. Pinello, allows visitors to view the full text of court cases organized by name, court type, issue, and date. Five of the cases are from the U.S. Supreme Court, including Boy Scouts of America v. Dale and Lawrence v. Texas.
- Advocate.com: Law is the legal section of The Advocate, providing news stories of significance to LGBT issues and law. The publication focuses on LGBT in general, organizing stories by politics, entertainment, business, and other categories.
- Lesbian/Gay Law Notes, hosted online by New York Law School, keeps track of legal developments worldwide regarding same-sex marriage, gays in the military, adoption rights for same-sex couples, and so on. Issues of Lesbian/Gay Law Notes are archived as far back as 1980, although only significance cases are represented between 1980 and 1999. All other articles are available for view for free.
- The National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law only ran between 1995 and 1998, but was one of the few academic periodicals to focus exclusively on the legal side of LGBT issues. All of its content is available for free in HTML format from Ibiblio.org.
- Sexual Orientation and the Law finds articles from a variety of legal journals and then gives visitors several database options for reading them (LexisNexis, Westlaw, etc.). The articles are organized by date and then in reverse alphabetical order, and free articles are labeled separately.
Same-Sex Marriage Resources
Approved by a large majority in both houses, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriage, but also helped bring the issue to the center of national attention. Only after 2000, however, did court decisions such as Varnum v. Brien and Smelt v. Orange County begin to change the status quo, and now same-sex marriage is permitted in a handful of states (mostly in New England). The following websites are sources of legal documents or news sites that keep track of the frequently-changing marriage laws throughout the nation.
- DOMA Watch, a resource devoted exclusively to updates and legal texts about the status of the Defense of Marriage Act nationwide, allows visitors to view same-sex marriage legal battles by state or by issue. Commentary, news, and links are also provided.
- ‘Lectric Law Library: Defense of Marriage Act is the text and a detailed summary of DOMA, an act from the Clinton era still in effect today that recognizes marriage as a union between a man and a woman on the federal level, which means that no state is required to recognize same-sex marriage. However, states can still choose to pass legislation allowing same-sex marriage within their borders.
- Research Guides: Same-sex Marriage Laws, part of Ohio State University’s College of Law, is a helpful table that lists legislation for each state, organized by “Statutes Limiting Marriage,” state constitutional amendments, “State Supreme Court Decisions,” and so on. Each law is hyperlinked and can be read directly.
- Same-Sex Marriage: A Selective Bibliography of the Legal Literature, from the Law Library of Rutgers, is an enormous list of citations for books and articles both for and against same-sex marriage. Sources that address associated issues, such as parenting and taxation, are available as well.
- Varnum v. Brien is the Iowa Supreme Court decision to permit same-sex marriages within the state. The procedendo is available, as well as the opinion and summary in PDF format. The documents are part of the Iowa Judicial Branch’s website.
Many of the organizations listed above provide news and essential information about laws affecting the LGBT community as supplements to their primary missions: advocacy, activism, and education. The following resources, however, are broader in scope and serve as good jumping off points for anyone conducting research about laws affecting the gay and lesbian community.
- Gay and Lesbian Legal Issues, from Washburn University’s School of Law, is a large compilation of links categorized by issue and topic, including AIDS and HIV, rights, publications, same-sex marriage, and immigration. Other case types, including civil rights and law libraries, are available from the menu on the left.
- GayLawNet offers news, lists of legal professionals, and a thorough compilation of links to other resources, organized by topic (adoption, prison & corrections, etc.). Laws themselves can be viewed by first clicking on a country (of which hundreds are listed) and then on the type of law (age of consent, hate crimes, sodomy, etc.). Examples and links to actual legislation are then provided, if available.
- LGBT Rights is a section of Human Rights Watch, which keeps track of news around the world about violations of basic freedoms and major strides in holding such violations in check. A brief description of global LGBT issues accompanies the news section.