Elizabeth Schwartz has been practicing law since 1997 and is a nationally recognized advocate for the legal rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. She is the author of the book Before I Do: A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay and Otherwise (The New Press, 2016).
While her firm equally works with straight and gay clients in matters of family law, estate planning and probate, she has been at the forefront of providing crucial legal protections for LGBT families. She lectures locally, nationally and internationally about the impact of nationwide marriage equality, and the continued importance of LGBT couples protecting their loved ones through estate planning, stepparent and second parent adoption. She focuses her practice both on family formation (adoption, insemination, and surrogacy) and dissolution, and handled the first divorce for a same-sex couple in Florida. Elizabeth is a fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and the Florida Adoption Council, and serves as an adoption intermediary helping make forever families of all kinds, straight and gay alike.
Elizabeth is also a fellow of the American Academy of Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, assisting intended parents, gestational carriers and egg and sperm donors with their legal needs. Elizabeth served as counsel on the case challenging Florida’s marriage ban brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) on behalf of six same-sex couples and members of the Equality Florida Institute seeking the right to marry (Pareto v. Ruvin) and also on the Chin v. Armstrong case, suing Florida for fair issuance of birth certificates to same-sex married couples. She also served as pro bono counsel in several cases that helped overturn Florida’s bigoted 1977 ban forbidding gays and lesbians from adopting children.
Also a certified family mediator and a member of the Collaborative Family Law Institute, she treats the law as a therapeutic profession, facilitating relationship dissolution with minimal investment of emotional and financial resources. A Miami Beach native, Elizabeth received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993 and her Juris Doctor, cum laude, from the University of Miami in 1997. Elizabeth serves as co-chair of the national board of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders).
She is a member of the National Family Law Advisory Council of NCLR as well as its National Leadership Council, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. Elizabeth sits on the GLBT Projects Fund of the Miami Foundation and the Our Fund Program and Grants Committee. An active member of her synagogue, Temple Israel of Greater Miami, Elizabeth serves on their Narot Endowment Fund board. For her years of service, she has been tapped to receive the Anti-Defamation League’s 2016 Miami Jurisprudence Award, and was honored with the ACLU of Florida’s 2015 C. Clyde Atkins Award.
In 2014, the University of Miami School of Law Center for Ethics and Public Service recognized Elizabeth with its Lawyers in Leadership award. She received the National LGBTQ Task Force’s 2012 Eddy McIntyre Community Service Award. Also in 2012, Elizabeth was tapped for membership into Iron Arrow, the highest honor attained at the University of Miami. Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT rights group, honored Elizabeth in 2011 with its Voice for Equality Award. In 2010, Elizabeth was named by the National LGBT Bar Association as one of the country’s Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40, and also received the Women Worth Knowing Award from the City of Miami Beach Commission for Women. In 2008 she was honored with the “Valuing Our Families” Community Award, presented by Sunserve.
In 2007, she received the Dade County Bar Association’s Sookie Williams Award and the Aqua Foundation for Women Leadership Award. And in 2005, she received the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Community Award. A lefty and a Scorpio, Elizabeth lives with her wife, writer Lydia Martin, and their rescued Havanese, Gracie Kenisha de la Caridad, in Miami’s urban core. Contact Elizabeth at email@example.com.
What motivated you to write a book(s) that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ families/issues?
I have worked with and for LGBT families for 20 years. My law practice has been a mixture of advocacy work on efforts like overturning our bans against LGBT people adopting and marrying , and helping specific clients protect themselves and their loved ones through estate planning, contract and adoption. Through it all, I’ve advised our community to be informed and cautious about all consequences of our actions. When I was approached in 2014 to write a legal guide for LGBT people who are marrying or have already tied the knot, I seized the opportunity to craft such an important educational tool. We’re in the second printing so I’m delighted to know something that was such a natural fit is also a helpful resource to many.
What do you personally feel makes a family?
Love makes a family, that’s for sure. Genetics are almost irrelevant. But law makes a family too. We can live together as a family unit, but without the legal protections provided by marriage, adoption, estate planning, those bonds can be legally irrelevant.
What does “equality” look like to you?
While formal legal equality is crucial – and non-negotiable – equality is not just some laws on the books. It is full, lived equality. Where we can live our lives free from any and all kinds of discrimination. We have a long way to go in that regard, especially with the more vulnerable among us like elders, youth, the differently able, people of color, and trans people. Not until every LGBT person is accepted both in our own community and in the broader community, will we be truly free.
Whose books do you admire and why?
I’m a Kurt Vonnegut girl when it comes to grown-up books. His wit is beyond brilliant. For kids’ books, I love Todd Parr’s inclusivity and sweetness. He covers the full constellation of families in such a perfect way. I can’t count how many of his books I’ve given as gifts over the years.
What’s coming up next for you?
Next for me is moving my office, a huge undertaking. After 20 years on Miami Beach, I’m moving over to “the mainland” in no small part so I can walk to work. The purging of stuff is no fun but I can’t wait for the traffic-free commute and lots of free parking for my clients.