Family & Relationships: Overview

When the National Center for Lesbian Rights was founded in 1977, nearly all the cases that we worked on were about ensuring LGBT parents could keep custody of their children after they came out. Our legal victories have changed the legal landscape for all LGBT parents and families. But we know there is still so much more to be done. State by state, NCLR is making sure that all children raised and parented by LGBT people—regardless of whether those parents are single, in a relationship, have taken steps to protect their relationships legally, or are biologically related to their children—are provided with the legal protections that all parents and children need.

Over the past three decades, we have partnered with talented attorneys across the nation to advance the rights of and protections for LGBT parents and families. In 2003, NCLR convened a group of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys from around the country to discuss family formation and protection issues, evaluating national trends and cases in each state. The meeting proved invaluable to both NCLR and the private practitioners involved in addressing the ever-evolving legal challenges LGBT families face. The group continued to meet and to grow, and in 2006, was formally formed as NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council.

While we are proud of our tremendous success, our work is far from over. Our victory in securing marriage equality nationwide does not automatically protect all LGBT families. Parents can still lose parental rights as they travel across state lines. Even parents who were married when their child was born may not be fully protected in some states, depending on their situation. And unmarried non-biological parents remain particularly at risk. For couples who are unmarried and are not in a comprehensive domestic partnership or civil union, less than half of the states permit second parent adoptions. And even when an adoption is available, many families cannot afford to or do not know that they need to take advantage of these protections.

Each year numerous children are denied visitation rights and vital financial benefits—like a child’s social security survivor benefits—because their relationship with their second parent is not legally-recognized. To bring an end to these tragic stories, we are working to ensure that both members of same-sex couples, as well as transgender parents, are recognized as legal parents. In 2006, NCLR launched the Family Protection Project, which works to improve access to family law services for low-income same-sex parent families, with a focus on serving families of color. In 2015, we began the #Equality4Families campaign to raise awareness about the continued need to reform state laws so that they fully protect parents’ rights to care for their children.