5 Reasons LGBT Legal Services Are Important
February 21, 2019
Given the progress we’ve made over the past decade, some may question whether LGBT-specific legal services are still relevant and necessary. In fact, there are many benefits, a few of which we’ll outline below.
1. LGBT rights laws are complex
The LGBT legal landscape is not a simple one. Indeed, there are often multiple layers of laws that affect different areas of LGBT life.
For example, though gay marriage is now recognized nationwide, implementing that right is not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance. Whether a couple had already registered in a domestic partnership, how they have handled their estates and legal parentage of their children, and other factors all affect how they would transition into a marriage. To add another layer of complexity, if they live in California, they could choose to remain in a domestic partnership. However, if they live in Washington State, their domestic partnership would have been automatically transferred to a marriage in 2014, unless they were over 64 years of age.
Just as some attorneys specialize in areas such as taxation or business law, having an attorney that knows the ins and outs of laws that affect LGBT folks is important.
2. A shared understanding can enhance communication
Having great communication with your attorney is key to a successful outcome. An attorney that has a deep understanding of many typical LGBT experiences gives a boost to your communication.
This is particularly true when it comes to family law. For example, law firms that specialize in LGBT legal services are more likely to be aware that lesbian and gay couples tend to marry later than heterosexual couples, meaning prenuptials are particularly important.
3. Specialized insight of where barriers are likely to emerge
In some cases, LGBT folks continue to face more systemic barriers than heterosexual individuals. Knowing where these ‘roadblocks’ may emerge is highly valuable, in order to eliminate them or reduce their impact. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
For example, if an LGBT couple is considering starting a family, they will have to consider several options, including adoption, surrogacy, or sperm donor, depending on the situation. Attorneys who frequently work with LGBT families will know that not all adoption agencies will accept LGBT couples, due to international law, and in some cases “religious freedom” legislation. Likewise, they’ll be more aware of how to successfully navigate surrogacy and other options. Access to this knowledge means you’re less likely to spend time and resources going down a path that could have a barrier.
4. Case law is a powerful social justice tool
Though we’ve come a long with with LGBT rights, and our anti-discrimination laws are exponentially stronger than they were even a decade ago, we still have work to do.
Case law is defined as “law based on decisions that have been made by judges in the past.” In essence, where current laws are unclear, lacking, or could be interpreted in different ways, case law fills in the gaps.
Since many laws that affect LGBT folks are relatively young, case law has a particularly strong impact. It can serve as an avenue for progress, but also one where rights are eroded. Thus, it’s critical that strong LGBT legal services exist, to utilize this tool to continue furthering LGBT rights.
5. LGBT legal rights are still in formation
Though we’ve made tremendous advances with LGBT rights, in some cases, there is the possibility that LGBT rights may be eroded.
Not all laws are created equal. Supreme Court rulings and constitutional amendments are the strongest type of law. As we saw above, case law is another form of law, though it is considerably weaker. In between are different levels of local, state, and federal law.
In the current political climate, it is critical that legal services that specialize in LGBT law continues to thrive, not only to serve the LGBT community’s immediate legal needs, but also as “bricks” in the legal foundation to safeguard our future.