Nancy Polikoff

Professor of Law

Office: Room 450
Phone: 202-274-4232
E-mail: vCard


Nancy Polikoff is Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law where she teaches Family Law and a seminar on Children of LGBT Parents. From Fall 2011 through Fall 2012, she was the Visiting McDonald/Wright Chair of Law at UCLA School of Law and Faculty Chair of the Williams Institute, a national think tank on sexual orientation law and public policy at UCLA Law. In 1976, Prof. Polikoff co-authored one of the first law review articles on custody rights of lesbian mothers. For almost 40 years, she has been writing about, teaching about, and working on litigation and legislation about LGBT families. Her book, Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law, was published by Beacon Press in 2008, the inaugural volume in its Queer Ideas series.

Prof. Polikoff was instrumental in the development of the legal theories that support second-parent adoption and custody and visitation rights for legally unrecognized parents. She was successful counsel in In re M.M.D., the 1995 case that established joint adoption for lesbian, gay, and unmarried couples in the District of Columbia, and Boswell v. Boswell, the 1998 Maryland case overturning restrictions on a gay noncustodial father’s visitation rights. From 2007-2009, she played a primary role in the drafting and passage of groundbreaking parentage legislation in the District of Columbia, for which she was honored with a Distinguished Service Award from the DC Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

Prof. Polikoff coordinated the legal representation of hundreds of protesters arrested in October 1987 for civil disobedience at the US Supreme Court in protest of the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick. Her article reflecting on that and other lawyering experiences, Am I My Client?: The Role Confusion of a Lawyer Activist, 31 Harv. Civ. Rts.-Civ. Lib. L. Rev 445 (1996), has been assigned in numerous law school courses.

Before joining full time academia in 1987, Prof. Polikoff co-founded the Washington, DC Feminist Law Collective and then supervised family law programs at the Women’s Legal Defense Fund (now the National Partnership on Women and Families). She is a former chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues and a member of the National Family Law Advisory Council of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. In 2011, Prof. Polikoff received the Dan Bradley award from the National LGBT Bar Association, the organization’s highest honor.



Areas of Specialization

  • Civil Procedure
  • Family and Juvenile Law
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues

Degrees & Universities

  • M.A., George Washington University 1980
  • J.D., Georgetown University Law Center 1975
  • B.A., University of Pennsylvania 1972

  • Selected Publications

    • + More Publications...

  • + Selected Presentations

    • Nancy Polikoff, Testimony, Testimony Before the D.C. City Council on Marriage Equality & Domestic Partnerships (Wash., D.C., Oct. 26, 2009).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Marriage, Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships and Other Family Structures in a Mobile Society (National Lesbian and Gay Law Foundation Lavender Law Conference, San Diego, Cal., Oct. 2005).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Valuing All Families: What is a Comprehensive LGBT Family Policy and Which American Arguments for Same-Sex Marriage Move us Farther Away From It (International Lesbian and Gay Law Conference 3, University of Toronto, Toronto, Can., June 27, 2005).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Beyond Marriage: Broadening the LGBT Family Agenda (17th Annual National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference, St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 12, 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, The Rhetoric of Same-Sex Marriage and Our Children (City University of New York School of Law, N.Y.C., N.Y., Nov. 5, 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Lesbian and Gay Parents: Thirty Years of Legal Issues (James R. Browning Symposium on Children and the Law, Montana Law Review, University of Montana, Missoula, Mont., Sept. 23, 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Marriage or Multiple Options? The Impact of Same-Sex Marriage Claims (2004 Annual Meeting, Law and Society Association, Chi., Ill., May 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Eliminating Marriage’s ‘Special Rights (Women’s Rights Law Reporter Symposium 2004, Rutgers University School of Law, Newark, N.J., Apr. 1, 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Ending Marriage as We Know It: Does the Movement for Same-Sex Marriage Divert Attention from a More Just Reform of the Law of Families? (Family Law Distinguished Scholar Lecture, University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison, Wisc., Mar. 25, 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Why the ALI Domestic Partners Principles Get it Right (AALS Annual Meeting, Section Program for the Property Law Section, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 2004).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Questioning Ourselves: The Pros and Cons of Marriage and Domestic Partnership Registration (George Washington University, Wash., D.C., Nov. 2003).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Making Marriage Matter Less: The ALI Domestic Partners Principles are a Step in the Right Direction,” (University of Chicago Law School, Chic., Ill., Oct. 2003).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Ending Marriage as We Know It (International Society of Family Law North American Regional. Conference, University of Oregon School of Law, Eugene, Or., June 2003).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Lessons Beyond U.S. Borders (Symposium on Marriage, Democracy, and Families, Hofstra Law School, N.Y., Mar., 2003).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Values Underlying Adoption Criteria (Symposium on Marriage, Adoption and the Best Interests of the Child, Capital University Law School, Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 2002).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Defining Domestic Partners (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force 15th Annual Creating Change Conference, Portland, Or., Nov. 2002).
    • Nancy Polikoff, Speech, Parenting by Same-Sex Partners Marriage, Partnerships and Parenting in the 21st Century: The Current International Situation and New Perspectives for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered People and Their Families – A Comparative Approach (Conference of the Center for Research and Comparative Legal Studies on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, University of Turin, Turin, Italy, June 2002).
  • + Selected Media Appearances


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