U.S. Lags Behind A Dozen Other Nations In Same-Sex Couples Rights

January 24, 2003

Landmark National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Report Finds Basic Equality Continually Denied For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Families

NEW YORK - On the same day that it was reported that the federal government recognized same-sex partner rights for the first time by granting compensation to the lesbian partner of a woman killed in the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) issued a report that for the first time documents in detail the pervasive, damaging, and at times life-shattering discrimination faced by same-sex couples. "Family Policy: Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Families," examines the multiple facets of family policy as it relates to the lives of GLBT people and their loved ones.

"We applaud the government's decision to recognize that the loss of a life partner is no less tragic when the victims are a lesbian couple than it is when the victims are legally married heterosexuals," said Lorri L. Jean, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "But it should not have taken a tragedy like September 11th to bring about such equal treatment. Unfortunately, the vast majority of federal, state and local laws still discriminate against same-sex couples and their families--people who deserve equal treatment under the law. As our landmark report clearly documents, the toll of this institutional discrimination can be emotionally and financially catastrophic. Now, for the first time, activists, policy makers and legislators have the tool they need to correct these injustices. We hope that NGLTF's "Family Policy" report will help to ensure that no American family suffers the effects of bigotry and discrimination."

Profiled in the Benefits of Partner Recognition chapter, Larry Courtney tells of the troubles he faced after his legally recognized domestic partner and companion of 14 years was killed in the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center: "The company processing the worker's compensation claim stated that I did not qualify for the benefits that Eugene's company had been paying for all these years because we did not fit the criteria of 'legally married.' Instead, they suggested that the benefits might be paid to Eugene's father. Eugene had not seen or spoken to his father in over 20 years. Nor had he ever spoken to me about him."

Current family policy discriminates against GLBT families in many federal and state policies:

  • same-sex couples are not eligible for tax breaks that married couples get;
  • family-leave from work to care for a partner is denied;
  • Social Security survivor benefits for same-sex partners are denied;
  • family-related restrictions are written into welfare reform legislation;
  • custody rights of GLBT parents and their extended families are denied;
  • and many issues involving education, health care, and immigration policy leave GLBT families out in the cold.

The NGLTF "Family Policy" manual examines:

  • Data on GLBT families, including the prevalence of parenting and how experiences are shaped by one's race, class, and age;
  • The major challenges faced by same-sex couples, and the avenues available to recognize their family relationships through access to marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and reciprocal beneficiary status;
  • The legal obstacles that GLBT people face as they seek to become parents or gain legal recognition of their parental relationships with their children;
  • The unique situations of GLBT youth, who are often isolated and without family support, and the ways in which social services and schools can become more responsive to the needs of this population;
  • The particular family issues facing GLBT elders, including discrimination in nursing homes and senior services, and unequal treatment under income support programs and Medicaid;
  • Major health-related issues--such as health insurance access, decision making, leave from work, nursing care and domestic violence--as they relate to family policy and the ability of GLBT people to maintain family bonds and access quality care and services;
  • Discrimination--in employment, housing, and taxation--and its impact on GLBT families; and,
  • The increasing number of municipal and state governments offering domestic partner benefits and other forms of family recognition.

"The United States government lags behind a dozen other nations, including Brazil, South Africa, and Israel in granting concrete rights and benefits to same-sex couples," said NGLTF Policy Institute Director and co-author of the "Family Policy" manual, Sean Cahill, Ph.D. "The federal government should follow the example set by fair-minded city and state governments across the U.S. and national governments around the world."

The manual seeks to help policymakers, media, advocates, and others more clearly define areas of need and promote policies to respond to them.

For example:

  • Four states either ban discussion of homosexuality in the state's schools (South Carolina) or require that if homosexuality is discussed in schools, that it be portrayed negatively (Arizona, Alabama and Texas).

  • Same-sex partners are not eligible to take unpaid leave to care for their loved one under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

  • Several courts have invalidated marriages entered into by transgender people.

  • Three states (Montana, Delaware, and South Carolina) explicitly exclude same-sex partners from their domestic violence laws.

The NGLTF report provides in-depth analysis of major issues affecting GLBT families, including legal recognition of partner and parent-child relationships, youth and elder concerns, and health care and end of life issues. It explains the difference between same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnership, and provides talking points for government officials and family policy advocates considering pro- and anti-GLBT family legislation. The most recent data on the prevalence of parenting among same-sex couples and single GLBT people is described, as well as the impact of marriage and fatherhood promotion, the faith-based initiative, and other Bush Administration proposals on GLBT families. These issues are vividly illustrated through numerous maps, charts, and moving profiles of GLBT families who have personally experienced the consequences of basic inequality. The conclusion of the manual provides recommendations for further research and policy change.

The "Family Policy" report is the third report released by the NGLTF Policy Institute in the past year. [ View all NGLTF Policy Institute reports ]

Three individuals profiled in the report--Tina Fakhrid-Deen, Lisa Stewart, and Larry Courtney--are available for interviews. NGLTF's Lorri L. Jean, Sean Cahill and report co-author Mitra Ellen are also available for interviews.

Founded in 1995, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute is the largest think tank in the United States engaged in research, policy analysis and strategic action to advance equality and understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The Policy Institute conducts and promotes research, generates groundbreaking reports, and serves as a clearinghouse for information, research and analysis for use by advocates, elected officials, government agencies, the media, and progressive organizations.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.