LGBTQ Family Law and Policy in the United States (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
There is a growing body of research on law and policy concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) family law and policy. LGBTQ families have existed for centuries despite laws and policies that criminalize their relational practices. However, the legal landscape has shifted a great deal over the past few decades, in large part due to the increased visibility of LGBTQ kinship networks and new constitutional protections for same-sex marriage. With this said, legal protections for LGBTQ families vary widely by state, especially parental, adoption, and foster care rights. Historically, family law and policy has fallen within the realm of state power, with some important exceptions (e.g., the Supreme Court has recognized a fundamental right to parent for legal parents). For this reason, there are broad protections afforded to LGBTQ kinship networks in some states, especially those with large urban and more liberal populations, and barriers that stand in the way of LGBTQ parental rights in other states that are more conservative or rural. The legalization of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges did standardize some protections for same-sex couples in traditional relationships across the United States. Yet the case also presents new problems both for LGBTQ families that are more heteronormative and those that are not because it fails to recognize a fundamental right to parent for LGBTQ people who create non-biological families and live non-traditional lives.In addition to these legal and policy changes, social scientists have used both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to shed light on the problems faced by LGBTQ families politically and legally. Researchers have examined how LGBTQ families attempt to protect their ability to parent in family court, how LGBTQ kinship networks identify innovative legal and political strategies aimed at overcoming barriers to legal recognition, and how LGBTQ identity is both constituted and made invisible through family law. Furthermore, scholars have produced a wealth of research refuting the myth that LGBTQ people are inadequate parents since the late 1980s and this research has been used in court cases across the United States to facilitate the legal recognition of LGBTQ families. Despite this research, gaps in both scholarship and legal recognition remain. Scholarship remains startlingly sparse given the legal and political barriers that stand in the way of LGBTQ family recognition, especially for LGBTQ people of color and trans and queer people. In order to address this gap, scholars should devote more resources to research on families that include LGBTQ people of color and trans and queer people, research on non-traditional queer kinship networks, and research on the unique ways that LGBTQ families are responding to political and legal barriers at the local level.