Within days of Pennsylvania's historic marriage-equality decision, life became easier for thousands of same-sex couples.
Gone was the need for legal gymnastics to secure even the most fundamental rights and benefits every other married couple obtained by the simple act of saying "I do."
Buying property, creating a will, adopting a child and many other life events that called for the services of a lawyer experienced in working with gay and lesbian couples became the same as for any other married couple. Even ending a marriage — which previously had been a legal impossibility in Pennsylvania for same-sex couples married elsewhere — became simpler.
"It's just like any other divorce now," said Jonathan Huerta, an attorney at the King Spry law firm in Bethlehem whose practice focuses on family law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples.
"Certain things fall into place just as a matter of law," Huerta said, since U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled May 20 that Pennsylvania's nearly two-decade-old ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, giving same-sex couples nationwide the same recognition under tax law and other federal laws as other married couples. The decision set in motion a cascade of federal court decisions striking down state bans. Pennsylvania is now among 19 states with marriage equality.
But Huerta and other lawyers dedicated to serving the LGBT community don't see the demand for their services disappearing. They see it increasing as couples seek to enforce their rights and reconcile arrangements created before their relationships were recognized with the laws that apply to married couples.
Huerta sees demand "both from young same-sex couples who want to get married and from older, established couples."
Angela Giampolo, a Philadelphia lawyer whose practice focuses on LGBT clients, said, "I've done more [pre-nuptial agreements] and post-nups in the last three months than I have in the last seven years."
She expects the business to grow as couples who built lives together without marrying will wed simply to avoid inheritance taxes.
"The financial ramifications in death are just huge," she said.
Those couples will then find they need to hire lawyers to retitle their houses, rewrite wills and change other arrangements to reflect their married status.
Allentown law firm Gross McGinley is creating a group of eight lawyers from diverse fields of practice to receive training on issues that uniquely affect the LGBT community and sensitivity toward same-sex couples.
Co-founder Malcolm J. Gross said the move grew out of his concern about seeing friends treated differently because they were gay.
"You process that as a lawyer and you start to say, 'What can I do?' " Gross said.
The firm's announcement this month that it would position itself specifically to serve the LGBT community is not its first effort to promote gay rights. In 2005, the firm's lawyers were part of a team that won a precedent-setting victory that Allentown had the legal authority to ban employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gross said part of his interest in helping the LGBT community is that it faces legal issues on the cutting edge of the law.
"They're all areas that require creative thinking by attorneys," he said.
Marketing the firm with a focus on LGBT issues may also help it tap goodwill in the gay community stemming from its history of work in the fight for equality, Giampolo said.
"The LGBT community is fiercely loyal," she said, describing a preference for gay- and gay ally-owned businesses as recycling the pink dollar.
The fact that a firm in Allentown — well removed from the regional centers of gay community in New York and Philadelphia — has set out to serve the LGBT community is a sign of progress, said Gerald Shoemaker, a Norristown attorney who practices family law with a focus on same-sex couples.
"It almost puts the issues in the mainstream where they've needed to be for a long time," said Shoemaker, whose firm, Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin and Schiller, helped the American Civil Liberties Union defeat Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban.
Shoemaker said many lawyers have been working on family law, real estate and estate issues for same-sex couples for 20 or 30 years, but they have mainly been in big cities.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association doesn't keep track of how many lawyers say they focus on issues affecting the LGBT community. The organization's Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Committee has 73 members, but there are no criteria for attorneys to join, spokesman Jeff Gingerich said.
While Shoemaker said he doesn't expect many big city firms to begin promoting their LGBT focus, it's likely others in the state's smaller urban areas such as Harrisburg, Scranton and State College will begin to do so, Shoemaker said.
But it's not enough to simply hang out a shingle that says a law firm has a focus on LGBT issues, said Adrian Shanker, an LGBT equality advocate and former president of Equality Pennsylvania.
With the legalization of same-sex marriage, businesses from wedding caterers to accountants have labeled themselves as LGBT friendly without much to back it up, he said. In one case, a hotel where Shanker and his husband had reserved rooms for their wedding asked guests for the bride's name when they called.
"A lot of very well-intentioned people don't know how to talk to and about LGBT and our families," Shanker said.
Shanker has worked with Gross McGinley to raise awareness of those cultural issues with the attorneys who are part of the LGBT practice group.
Giampolo, who also has worked to educate Gross McGinley's LGBT practice lawyers on legal issues affecting the gay community, said that cultural competence is key to serving same-sex couples well.
"I don't automatically think they're sisters or business partners," Giampolo said. "You're automatically assumed [to be] gay when you walk into my office."
The fact that Lehigh Valley law firms have recognized the need for LGBT legal services and are taking action to meet it is a positive thing for the broader community, Huerta said.
"For the longest time this was a big city thing," Huerta said. "I think it's fantastic that people are starting to recognize that you don't have to leave the Valley."
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