Domestic violence can affect all families regardless of age, race, income, or sexuality. Abuse in same-sex relationships is just as dangerous and devastating as the violence experienced in heterosexual couples. In recent years, many states have changed the way police and the courts respond to domestic violence in same-sex relationships making it easier for victims to get help.

While there are some states that continue to discriminate against gay and lesbian families, the majority of states offer the same avenues of protection including a civil protective order to combat partner abuse.

What is a Protection Order?

All states of some form of a civil protection order for victims of domestic violence. In most cities and counties, a victim can file a petition 24 hours a day. Depending on the state, these orders may be called a restraining order or an injunction. The petition is a form of civil relief, not criminal, so victims do not need report a crime to the police or file criminal charges in order to get protection.

Once a judge signs the order the abuser may be required to do the following:

  • Stay away from the victim and their residence.
  • Leave the family home and give temporary possession of the home to the victim.
  • Have no contact with the victim and their children if applicable.
  • Provide financial support for the home and mutual children while separated.
  • Stay away from the victim’s employment, school or childcare facility.

If the abuser violates the protection order, the police can arrest them and the abuser can be charged with the crime of violating the order.

Can Gay and Lesbian Victims Get Protection?

Many states have “gender-neutral” language when it comes to domestic violence protection orders and criminal offenses. In such states, a victim can identify as any gender or sex. The abuser can also be defined as any gender or sex.

In most cases, victims in a same-sex relationship can obtain a protection order. A few states include language that specifically provides protection for same-sex relationships eliminating most barriers to obtaining a protective order.

In states that use gender neutral language or clearly provide protection for gay and lesbian victims, there has been great effort to improve the police response to domestic violence crime. For example, the abuser may not be seen as the male or as the bigger of the two in a same-sex couple.

However, this is still a relatively new development and not all departments follow such guidelines. Thus, gay and lesbian victims still experience discrimination when engaging with law enforcement.

There are a few states that clearly state a protection order is for heterosexual relationships when it comes to domestic violence. In such jurisdictions, it is very challenging for gay and lesbian victims to seek help under the law. Additionally, the police or criminal justice system may react poorly to the needs of same-sex families in responding to intimate partner violence.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Domestic violence is a difficult situation so speaking to a legal professional can help you navigate the system. A qualified family lawyer can assist gay and lesbian victims through the challenges and changes in the law. Leaving a domestic violence situation can be dangerous, so knowing your rights and what options are available to you in your state can help you make the right choice.