This does not convey all of the information you need about your legal rights. You should consult an attorney to obtain further information . However, the information here briefly describes some of your rights under law.
Am I protected if I am discriminated against because of my sexual orientation?
Yes. The Human Rights Act includes “sexual orientation” for acts of discrimination that occurred after January 1, 2006. The Act will protect individuals from discrimination in employment, real estate transactions, financial credit, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. The Act also protects individuals from sexual harassment in employment and higher education.
Ethics rules also prohibit lawyers, judges, and court personnel, from discriminating against someone based on his or her sexual orientation.
Some cities and counties have local human rights ordinances that protect from specific acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In some cases, you may also be protected at work by rights in an employee handbook, by the company’s non-discrimination policy, or (if you are a union member) by a collective bargaining agreement between the union and your company.
Am I protected if I am discriminated against because of my gender identity?
Yes. The Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation,” and the Act defines “sexual orientation” to include not only heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, but also “gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.” The Act therefore prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and public accommodations. Certain municipalities also include provisions protecting transgendered persons in their local nondiscrimination ordinances.
Can I adopt?
Yes. It does permit adoption of a child by unmarried persons, including same-sex couples, without regard to gender or whether one or both of the parties has a biological connection to the child. Regardless of the circumstances, both of the parties in the relationship have to file the petition for adoption. When an adoption is granted, the names of both parents (regardless of gender) are placed on the new birth certificate.
A couple can adopt a child that is available for adoption because of the (voluntary or involuntary) termination of the parental rights of the biological parents. Or, both parties can adopt a child who is the legal (or birth child) of one of the parties. These cases, which are called second-parent adoptions, arise in several ways. For example, if one of the parties was in a previous relationship, and a previous legal parent has abandoned the child, the rights of the parent who is gone may be ended by a court, and the new partner in the relationship may then adopt the child.
Another option arises when one parent gives birth to a child through artificial insemination. She and her partner can petition the court for the partner to adopt the child.
Before making the important decision to jointly adopt a child, it is critical to remember that if the relationship between the couple sours after an adoption, and if one of the parties is the biological parent of the child, that parent has no greater rights to the child than the other adoptive parent. Once a child is adopted, he or she is, for all legal purposes, equally the child of both parents, and both parents will have the rights and responsibilities of any other parent. Although a same-sex couple going through a breakdown of their relationship does not have the rights and obligations of a divorcing couple, the child of the relationship will have the same rights as any other child, including the right to have custody, visitation, and support issues heard by the court.
What happens if same-sex parents split up?
The law does not recognize parental rights other than those resulting from biology or adoption. If a same-sex couple has a child or children, and both parties meet the legal definition of a “parent” – whether by biology or adoption – the law protects their rights and interests with respect to the child, including custody, visitation, support, and related matters. If either or both parties do not meet the formal definition of “parent,” they are not, at present, able to secure legal rights to the child most states laws.
Can my same-sex partner and I register as domestic partners?
Maybe, depending on where you live or work. Some individuals can register as “domestic partners” . Registration does not confer any legal rights, but some private employers may recognize the domestic partnership registration as a basis for providing employment benefits to your partner.
Can I marry my same-sex partner ?
Other states (such as Massachusetts) and some other nations (such as Canada) allow same-sex marriage, and still other states (such as Vermont, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and Connecticut) allow for “civil unions” or some form of legal recognition of domestic partnership that includes rights, benefits, and burdens similar to marriage. But if the law currently prohibits same-sex marriage, no court has yet ordered the state to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state or jurisdiction.
Nonetheless, some private employers or companies may in fact recognize lawful same-sex marriages or unions performed in other jurisdictions. An employer may recognize the relationship status of an employee in a same-sex marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership, valid where obtained in another jurisdiction, for the purpose of providing benefits to the employee’s spouse or partner. A health club may offer the “married” rate to a same-sex couple, for example.
What if my partner and I go to Massachusetts or Canada and come back , will our marriage be recognized?
No. Under the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, “a marriage between two individuals of the same sex” is prohibited and will not be legally recognized . If a prohibited marriage is obtained in another state by “any person residing and intending to continue to reside in ,” it will be declared null and void for all purposes, “with the same effect as though such prohibited marriage has been entered into in .”
What can I do to allow my partner the same benefits as if we were legally married?
There is no legal way to obtain all the rights that are afforded to married couples. Today, many employers are offering their employees domestic partnership benefits. You and your partner can hold certain property jointly with rights of survivorship. Naming your partner as a beneficiary in your life insurance, bank accounts, or other accounts, will insure that he or she receives such. You can use a Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney, Trust, and Power of Attorney for Health Care to insure that if you should become incapacitated or something should happen to you, your wishes are respected. States have certain requirements in order for one to have a valid Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney, Trust, or Power of Attorney for Health Care. You should consult an attorney for further information.
Can my partner make medical or financial decisions for me if I cannot do so?
Maybe, if you plan ahead. The Probate Act allows you to name an agent to act on your behalf if you are unable to make medical or financial decisions for yourself. By having an executed Health Care Power of Attorney, your partner will have the right to honor your wishes with respect to important medical decisions [such as what steps you do or do not want doctors to take to prolong your life]. In addition, a Property Power of Attorney will allow your partner to care for your financial matters if you are unable to do so. You should see an attorney to discuss your specific situation and the options that may apply to you.
What If I’m the victim of a hate crime?
Sexual orientation is a protected category under the Hate Crime Act. A hate crime occurs when a person “by reason of the actual or perceived” sexual orientation, “commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action or disorderly conduct.” Any hate crime is punishable with criminal prosecution and remedies, including restitution paid to the victim. Even if a crime is not charged as a hate crime, crimes committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation may be subject to greater penalties under law. You can also pursue a civil action for a hate crime and seek damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.
What if I am the victim of domestic violence?
The Domestic Violence Act permits a person abused or harassed by a family or household member to petition a court for an order of protection, regardless of the sexual orientation, marital status, or gender identity of the parties involved. Thus, if you are living with or even dating someone of the same sex and that person is abusing you, you may seek relief under the Act. The type of conduct that will support an order of protection includes not only physical abuse, but also threats of violence, harassment at your home or workplace, and stalking. An order of protection may include a number of different provisions aimed at protecting you from further harm, including requiring the person who has abused you to stay away from you and not commit any other acts of abuse or neglect, removing the abuser from a shared residence, requiring the abuser to undergo counseling, prohibiting the abuser from possessing a firearm, and providing for the care, possession, and visitation of a minor child, among other provisions. In order to obtain an order of protection, you will have to describe in writing the abuse or harassment you have experienced and its impact, attend a hearing before the court, and you may have to testify if the court so requires. In emergencies, orders of protection can be granted without the abuser being present. Violations of orders of protection are subject to criminal penalties.
What if I am sexually harassed at work?
You should consider complaining to: 1) your employer; and, 2) the Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Complaining to your employer.
You should check and see if your employer has a policy that tells you what to do if you believe you are being sexually harassed. Not all employers have such policies, but many do. Likely places to find your employer’s policy are in the employee handbook or on a company bulletin board. Sometimes larger companies have hotlines you can call with your concerns. Even if there is no policy, you should consider reporting the sexual harassment because if the harassment is coming from a coworker, your employer might not be held responsible until it knows or should have known that the coworker was sexually harassing fellow employees. No matter who you talk to or call, immediately write down the date and time of each conversation or attempted call, the name of the person with whom you spoke, and what each of you said during the conversation.
Complaining to the State and Federal Government.
You should also call the Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The laws which protect you from sexual harassment have deadlines for filing charges with those government agencies. Depending on where you live, there may be other local government agencies which provide you protection as well.
Sexual harassment is not just sexual conduct or requests for sexual favors. Unlawful sexual harassment can include harassment by your employer or coworkers because you might not look or act in a way that conforms to their stereotype of how a woman should look or act or how a man should look or act.
If you have questions about the application of the law in a particular case, consult your lawyer. The law is constantly changing. Information on this site or any site to which we link does not constitute legal advice.