Legal Legitimization: Recent Court Cases and the LGBTQ Reality

Lately, courts all across the country have been standing up to religious (or sometimes what’s called “moral”) bias against the LGBTQ community. In one way, it is not surprising that there have been so many recent cases, because such bias is a pervasive part of the legal reality members of LGBTQ community face on an everyday basis. Nonetheless, theses sorts of court decisions seem to be, at this particular moment in time, flying out the doors of courthouses all over the country. I’ll take a moment to hit some of the high points before getting down to the real question: does it even matter?

In March of this year, a federal judge held that a lesbian teen’s First Amendment rights had been violated when the Itawamba County School District refused to allow her to bring a female date to the prom. The district had banned same-sex couples at the prom in the past, but Constance McMillen implored them to make an exception. The district refused, and McMillen, represented by the ACLU, sued them on First Amendment grounds. The federal judge agreed that her rights had been violated but refused to grant her request that the school still sponsor a prom to which she could bring a female date.

In another federal case, in July, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. Section 3 reads as follows:

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“Past Formalities” and “Present Realities”: Why Wendy Isn’t a Parent at All

On June 24th, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled against a woman seeking legal recognition of her parental rights for the two children she adopted with her ex-partner. The two women adopted their children in 2002 and 2004 from Guatemala. The woman appealing, known in the record as Wendy, stayed at home with the children, while her partner, recorded as Liz, worked as an attorney. Liz was the legal adoptive parent so that the children could be on her healthcare plan. When the couple split up, the two women agreed to an informal custodial arrangement, but Wendy has no legal rights over or to her children. When Liz stopped allowing Wendy to see the children, Wendy lacked any legal recourse.

Wisconsin law does not permit same-sex couples adoptive rights; only one parent is the “legal parent.” The court justified its decision on the basis that Wisconsin law defines a “parent” as only the biological or adoptive parent. Wendy is neither of these and thus, at least under the law, not a parent at all.

This leads to questions that are more cultural than legal (though still legal, yes). How do we define parent? How do we define family? The Supreme Court has spoken to these questions, though not in the terms at issue here.

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