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Most people think of Massachusetts as the pace setter when it comes to equal treatment of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But a study out this week says the state ranks only sixth among the states and the District of Columbia when it comes to having LGBT-friendly laws and policies.

The ratings were produced by the Movement Advancement Project , a think tank funded by 16 pro-LGBT foundations and philanthropists.

Massachusetts was among only 12 states and the District of Columbia to merit a “high equality” status — states most friendly to LGBT people. But its score lagged behind California, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and New Jersey, as well as Washington, D.C.

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Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry. It has a statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both public and private employment, and the state prohibits such discrimination in housing, credit, public accommodations, and public schools.

But, says Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project , also known as MAP, Massachusetts doesn’t treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples when they are unmarried.

“If a heterosexual couple shows up at the hospital together and they’re not married and the woman says, ‘This is the father of my child,’ then it’s accepted. He’s written as the father on the birth certificate, and he would not have to adopt his partner’s child in order to be a legal parent,” said Mushovic. “But same-sex couples have to either marry or go through an adoption process to get legal recognition.”

Another shortcoming in Massachusetts law, said Heron Greenesmith, a researcher who worked on the report, comes in health and safety laws. California, the top-rated state, has a law prohibiting the use of “conversion therapy” on people under 18 as an attempt to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Massachusetts has no such law.

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Another example: Some states prohibit private insurance companies from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Massachusetts does not.

And unlike many other of the states with “high equality” laws, Massachusetts does not have a family leave law that covers same-sex couples and also does not make it possible for transgender people to obtain birth certificates that reflect their gender accurately.

Massachusetts’ overall score in the MAP study is 23.25 on a scale that ranges from a high of 34 to a low of -10.

The scores were calculated by giving one point for each law or policy in the state that supports equal treatment of LGBT people and deducting a point for each that is hostile to them. Fractions of points were awarded if local ordinances provided protections in parts of the state.

In addition to Massachusetts, four other New England states rank among the top 12 “high equality” states: Connecticut (21.5), Maine (21), Rhode Island (22), and Vermont (25.25). New Hampshire ranked 22d, with a score of 8 points, which was characterized as providing “medium equality.”

The report, “Mapping LGBT Equality in America,” ranked California at the top with 29.25 points, followed by Oregon (28.5), Washington, D.C., (27.5), Vermont (25.25), Washington (24.5), New Jersey (24.5).

At the bottom of the rankings is Louisiana, with a -6 rating. Just above Louisiana are Alabama (-5), Michigan (-5), Tennessee (-5), and Georgia (-4.5).

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Overall, the study concludes the country has “a long way to go before we achieve true equality for LGBT people.” It notes that, even if the Supreme Court strikes down laws in states next month that ban same-sex couples from marrying, 52 percent of LGBT people will still be without recourse if they are fired from their jobs or kicked out of their apartments because they are LGBT.

Topping the list

One point was awarded for each law or policy that supports equal treatment of LGBT people, and a point was deducted for each that is hostile to them.

1. California (29.25)

2. Oregon (28.5)

3. Washington, D.C. (27.5)

4. Vermont (24.5)

5. Washington (24.5)

6. New Jersey (24.5)

7. Massachusetts (23.25)


Lisa Keen can be reached at LisaKeen@mac.com.