Gays and lesbians face many legal hurdles in their daily lives. Knowing how the law hurts you is important because you can then take action to effect change. Here are ten ways the law hurts same-sex couples, their families, and every single person who identifies as a member of the LGBT community.


LGBT youth (and the children of same-sex parents) are harmed.

Every single law and practice that either excludes LGBT people or discriminates against them directly contributes to a culture in which homophobia is the accepted norm. Children in gay- and lesbian-headed households also suffer from this societal attitude. They often suffer ridicule or exclusion just because of the sexual orientation of their parents.

With more and more states offering marriage equality, with antidiscrimination laws being enacted, with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and so on, clearly the legal problems that the community face are easing — although not fast enough. And the societal homophobia is falling right along with it.


Antigay measures validate bullies.

Anti-marriage equality measures go into state constitutions. State legislatures introduce bills to ban discussing homosexuality in schools, no matter the subject or context. A state governor revokes the health benefits that gay and lesbian partners of state employees had been previously been able to receive.

Sometimes these measures pass, and sometimes they don’t. But their very presence and the publicity they generate lead to a climate in which those who are inclined to bully or intimidate members of the LGBT community —– and other gender nonconformers — are empowered.


Your boss can fire you for being LGBT.

The lack of employment antidiscrimination protection is one of the most important practical problems facing the LGBT community. In many places, an employer can legally discriminate in hiring, promoting, or retaining an employee just for being gay or lesbian — and state law protection for transgendered people is even rarer.

Many companies, large and small, have their own nondiscrimination policies, but some still don’t. And those policies aren’t law (unless they’re also in a contract, in which case the can be enforced by a court).


LGBT parents are denied legal rights and financial benefits.

One of the strongest arguments for full marriage equality is that when the law doesn’t recognize the relationship between gay and lesbian couples raising children, that lack of recognition harms their children in measurable ways.

One parent may not be recognized as the child’s legal parent; when a child is denied a second legal parent, that child is likelier to end up without a stable and secure environment; when the parents are unable to access financial benefits that accrue to legally married people, this inequality harms the whole family, including their children.


Partners are denied access to their deceased partner's home and property.

The law throws more than a few bones the way of married couples, and nowhere is this in greater evidence than in how property rights and taxes are treated. When one member of a legally married couple dies, the surviving partner is protected in ways designed to increase the odds that he or she will be able to hang on to the deceased partner’s estate.

LGBT couples lose out on these rights unless they sign a will and/or trust that leaves all their belongings to their surviving spouse. Even if they take these smart steps, they must pay inheritance and estate taxes that legally married couples don’t have to pay.


Couples have to spend money on documents to protect their rights.

Marriage creates many rights and assumptions in favor of couples, freeing them from the necessity of drawing up contracts to deal with their personal affairs and their financial relationship. LBGT couples must spend hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dollars to protect themselves, as best they can, by drawing up the documents — primarily wills and trusts.


LGBT tenants can be evicted because of sexual orientation.

In 1968, the US Congress passed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. The law prohibits discrimination in housing if that discrimination was based on a person’s race, religion, handicap, familial status, or thanks to a recently enacted regulation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, the exemptions to the FHA are big enough to drive a tank through!


Older couples don't have rights to spend their final days together.

Social Security death benefits go to surviving members of married opposite-sex couples, but not to same-sex couple survivors — even if they’re married in a state that recognizes their marriage — because of DOMA.

The same is true under any pension plan covered by the federal ERISA law, at least if the pension goes to the “spouse.” (But an employer may be able to set up a pension plan to enable you to leave your pension to your partner if you expressly so designate him or her.)


Immigration laws prevent bi-national couples from being together.

Immigrating into the United States is difficult. Recognizing the value and importance of intact families, the law allows U.S. citizens to sponsor their spouses, making them eligible for so-called green cards, which allow them to live and work in the United States permanently.

Not so for same-sex couples. In most states, same-sex couples aren’t permitted to marry. But even in states where full marriage equality has been achieved, the “immediate family member” option isn’t available as a way of (re)uniting same-sex couples — because, again, thanks (no thanks) to DOMA. Because immigration law is federal, DOMA applies, and it declares same-sex marriages null and void.


LGBT families bear an increased tax burden.

Generally, married couples get to file their federal income taxes jointly. Although being married can create a marriage penalty (additional tax liability) in cases of higher wage earners, it can also decrease the tax burden for others (most typically, in situations with one high wage earner and another who earns little or no income).

This tax advantage isn’t available to same-sex couples, though. Why? As you might have guessed by now, it’s because of DOMA. For federal purposes, even legally married same-sex couples aren’t . . . legally married.