Obama Issues Order to Allow Gay Partner Hospital Visitation Rights

President Obama might not have yet eliminated DADT given all the posturing of the troglodytes in the Senate and on the right, but he did take much needed action in asking that the Department of Health & Human Services issue a ruling to stop hospitals from preventing gays and lesbians from visitation rights with their partners. All hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid patients are covered by this ruling.

Here’s what Obama had to say about the issue:

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. … Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides.”

To help all readers understand the importance of this ruling, this heartbreaking story of a woman in Florida denied access to her dieing partner of 17 years following her admission to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital is enough to confirm the need for this ruling.  As the surviving partner said:

“To hold Lisa’s hand wasn’t a gay right, it was a human right.”

Conservative icon Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal stated that the benefit goes beyond gays and lesbians by allowing people to designate others beyond family members to have visitation and power of attorney rights.  Here’s what they had to say:

“Under the order, hospitals will be required to respect advanced directives and other legal documents like powers of attorney that aim to allow people outside the immediate family to have visitation privileges. Those privileges may not be denied on the basis of sexual orientation, among other factors, the order said. It applies not only to same-sex partners but to others, such as widowers who want a friend by their sides in the hospital.

Hospitals also will be required to respect legal documents that designate same-sex partners as decision-makers for patients unable to make decisions for themselves.

It is common practice for hospitals to deny visitation to non-family members. Gay rights activists have cited these restrictions as cause for why they need the right to marry.”

The reactionaries on the right were still stumbling on their response to this ruling.


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29 thoughts on “Obama Issues Order to Allow Gay Partner Hospital Visitation Rights

  1. I’ll respond probably still in a stumbling way, but that’s life. Though in general this is an issue I’m much less to the right on than others, so I won’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself.

    In general, this is most certainly a good thing. Though I have to say I’m very cynical about the claim that hospitals are just ignoring POA or advanced directives on the basis of sexual orientation. Just trying to picture that – “Let’s see here, we have a signed DNR order, but since you’re gay, we’re going to ignore it.” “We’re going to do something blatantly illegal and just ignore this Power of Attorney…” Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Setting aside those issues, on the other things where there aren’t proper legal measures in place issues like visitation and such are no-brainers. On these things, changes are long overdue to provide gay partner more rights.

    I said more rights, rather than equal rights because of the marriage issue. Now I’m absolutely in favor of same gender individuals being able to make a commitment and be granted the same legal status as married couples. (Though as I’ve said before, we need a new, legal term for both – marriage is a religious term.) This sort of “order from above” (and I’ll touch on that in a minute) is a stop-gap measure. The rights to marriage/civil union/whatever we call it & legal privileges that accompany it are the real solution.

    What is terribly problematic about this though – how do you determine if people really have the right to be there & more importantly, determine life or death type decisions for another. You have that “pull the plug” decision & the person says, “we love each other & have been together for 10 years.” How do you know that to be true? Sure, generally there aren’t people running around posing as loved ones so they can do that sort of thing – but given how critical these decisions can be, it seems important to make certain. This goes for ex-spouses & non-family members. Absent proof of marriage or blood relation, if you want someone to be there, your best course of action is to have a POA done.

    Finally one last bit – while overall I do agree that improvements to hospital rights for gay partners are long overdue, why is this being by fiat – by the President stepping forward and declaring it so? I wasn’t aware that the President could just do such things, I thought we had a process. Sing it with me, “I’m just a bill, sitting on Capitol Hill.” This is the exact same thing people were screaming bloody murder about Bush doing – about the Constitutional crisis of executive orders. Meanwhile President Obama can just say so, and HHS can force hospitals to do whatever he wants. Just because you happen to agree with the decision doesn’t make it any more right to go about it the wrong way.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I suggest that you watch the video. The woman who was denied access to her partner had legal documents giving her that right. The hospital, Jackson Memorial decided to deny her these rights. Once the dieing woman’s sister finally showed up she was ushered in with alacrity while her partner was left without recourse until the end.

      I agree with you on the re-definition of “marriage” to give same sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as straight couples. This needs to be re-defined as a civil not religious issue.

      In terms of your last comment, rules and guidelines are constantly changed and updated by the government based on considerations of what benefits Americans. If we elected to turn every rule and regulation into a battle between the hyper-partisan right and the Democratic Party, nothing would get done. Until the Party of No learns to be part of the governing process, the more that can be done legally without their continual interference needs to happen.

  2. Locke, I don’t think you could have made a better separate but equal statement if you tried.

    1. Oh give me a break. Normally I’d say that either you didn’t comprehend very well or I didn’t express myself very well – but since you specifically chose to call me a de facto racist, I’m putting it all on you.

      Let me be crystal clear on the “marriage” issue. I think gay couples should be able to commit to each other, be recognized legally by the government and be entitled to exactly the same rights as a opposite sex couple. I’m just willing to admit that part of the problem is that the term marriage means something different to different people and for many, is a religious term. I don’t want the state to have anything to do with marriage – regardless of who’s involved. Come up with a new term – hell call it all civil union for everyone or whatever, I really don’t care – so that all couples so commited are in the same boat.

      If some one’s wants to participate in a religious ceremony in addition to that fine. But that should have no bearing on the government or the rights of the people. Combining the two into one is like making a birth certificate & baptismal certificate the same.

  3. Since when is “marriage” a “religious term”? For God’s sake. I’m not religious so am allowed to say I’m married (according to you)?? Who gets to make the rules up for me and others? The religious people? Locke…you are so far off on this issue.

    In any case…President Obama did good. Progress is a good thing!

    1. Yes marriage IS actually a religious institution, but time and tradition have spread it to the secular world too. It’s kind of like how the mall celebrates Christmas and everyone getting gifts and has robbed it of its original meaning.

    2. Since when is “marriage” a “religious term”? For God’s sake.

      Was that intentional or a Freudian slip? 🙂

      Since when…Since forever. In England, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that a non-church wedding was even recognized as an alternative. And though it may not be your cup of tea, and certainly is declining, I believe that there are still more in church/religious weddings than not.

      I will admit to playing a little devil’s advocate on this though. Personally I don’t care – it bothers me not in the least if marriage is used same sex couples. But for a lot of people, this is the issue they have…or at least claim this is their issue. Take this issue away – for terms of rights and in they eyes of the government/legally, call it something different. But give full rights and privileges to anyone willing to commit to each other enough to fill out the paperwork. With that argument gone you eliminate the only remaining complaint that has any shred of legitimacy. With that last stragglers on this – the people who are still actually reachable & capable of opening up to it will move. It would help to get enough support to get over the hump and reach a majority.

      1. If you feel marriage is a “religious term” then it should not be used for legal purposes. Just like my baptismal certificate doesn’t get me anything legally from the government the same should be for marriages performed in churches as a religious ceremony. Not only should we find a new word for same sex couples who want to commit to each other…we need a new word for all couples who commit to each other. The word “marriage” should be taken out of all governmental records. The religious word “marriage” should be kept in the church with all the other “religious terms” like “pedophilia” and “hypocrisy”.

        1. And remove every other Christian reference, tradition, and foundation of western civilization? And liberals often say it is a mischaracterization that they despise and are ready to tear down the foundations of our culture.

          I mean “Thou shalt not kill” is a religious term, but it still has some value for society at large. Marriage as a legal construct also has value for the order in society and keeping families intact. I would argue making divorce easier in recent years has had a negative effect.

          And by the way, just coming up with a new term and calling it something different does change what it is or what it means. But if you need some political correct mumbo jumbo to make you feel that you have kept anything and everything religious out of your life, so be it.

          1. “And remove every other Christian reference, tradition, and foundation of western civilization?”

            When the “christian reference, tradition, and foundation” interfere with someone else’s equality then yes, I would be all for removing it from all governmental records/documents/etc. Religion belongs in church not in government.

      2. Locke, you are mistaken that marriage has been a religious term “since forever.” In ancient (pre-Christian) Rome, there were several forms of marriage, most of which were purely civil institutions. In the early (Christian) middle ages, marriage was still a civil institution. A celebratory mass was held at the conclusion of the ceremony, to bless the union, but the marriage ceremony itself was held on the steps outside the church, because marriage was a worldly institution, not a holy one.

        Around the time of the crusades, the church began regulating marriage ceremonies by asserting that Holy Matrimony was a sacrament (this was about the same period in which the church started insisting on celibacy for priests). Martin Luther did not count marriage among the sacraments, which was one of the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism (along with the priestly celibacy thing). The Catholic-leaning (but Pope-hating) Henry VIII had an abhorrence of Luther’s teaching, and so he kept many Catholic tenets in the Church of England, which is why there was no civil marriage in England before the 19th century. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries, some protestant groups (including some that helped found the American colonies) considered marriage to be a profane and purely civil institution.

        Since their Revolution, France has not recognized religious marriage as legally binding. All French marriages are civil marriages (and yet they use the term “mariage” rather than something else). Many French couples have a church wedding after their ceremony at City Hall.

        The American system, with clergy having the right to sign marriage licenses and perform legally binding ceremonies, is not the way it has always been, nor the way it is done everywhere. There is absolutely no reason why same-sex couples cannot be granted the right to marry without taking away the clergy’s privilege to perform legal marriages and decide which ceremonies they themselves will perform.

        The argument that we should just call the civil arrangement something else and separate legal and religious unions in order to recognize same-sex couples makes it seem like all married couples have something to lose if same-sex couples gain recognition. My marriage is not threatened by George Takei and his husband. It is threatened by people who say that, if teh gays get to marry, then no one’s marriage should be valid.

  4. Yes!! Thank you Mr. President.

    I just find myself getting increasingly tired/angered at others determining just how much human rights I am allowed as to not to offend others……it is usually those who take their own rights as inalienable, while my rights are debatable.

    1. Laurie, I could have sworn I read something somewhere about all men being created equal, but I guess in the minds of some conservatives that equality only applies if you fit into their narrow worldview.

  5. A person should be able to designate anyone he/she wants.

    To answer Locke’s question about how does the hospital know… the material quoted in the original post says under the order “hospitals will be required to respect advanced directives and other legal documents like powers of attorney.” But a good question is how does the hospital get that information when needed? Makes a good case for Google-style electronic medical record-keeping.

    As for the point about executive orders, whether you agree in this particular case or not, the President can just declare something for “all hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid patients are covered by this ruling.” One more reason not to have government more involved in health care!

    1. forgot-

      Because same-sex couples often experience the need to demonstrate our personal relationships and power of attorney/medical decsions….we usually carry these legal documents around with us when traveling..like the woman above from Washington State in Florida. So the hospital has access to this information within minutes or within a short period of time.

      And the attorneys’ who drew up these document names & contact info is usually included in this information if there is any questions of legality.

      Some hospitals and states just do not want to acknowledge these documents.

      1. Thanks for the clarification Laurie. I was merely thinking in practical terms of how hospitals would know at a moments notice and so if the document is readily available, that works. I do think that if it were “on file” on an electronic medical record, that would help too.

        1. Argeed….but how often do hetero couples (married or not) carry these docs (or a marriage cert) with them or have on file in their health records?

          I would be surprised that a girlfriend of a man going into a coma/dying would not be allowed into the room to say goodbye.

          I had a partner who had MS and was hospitalized often. I often times said I was her sister…..no one checked my family affiliation, but before I learned to say this I was often denied access.

          All of this is just anti-gay hospital policies. There was no rhyme or reason other than to be anti-gay.

      2. Some hospitals and states just do not want to acknowledge these documents.


        When I first posted, I just assumed this wouldn’t be the case – it just seems stupid and illogical and obviously illegal to think hospitals would do this. Just really kinda shocking to me that in an environment where there is almost constant consideration of decisions and actions to minimize exposure to litigation, they would blatantly expose themselves.

        Apparently that is what is claimed in the video – it’s been removed so I haven’t seen it. But if that’s the case, and if you say it’s happened, I’m perfectly willing to take that at face value and believe it. It does seem a little like passing a law to ban texting while driving – when there are already laws on the books covering distracted driving that would apply just fine. I don’t know that I necessarily see a need for a specific rule or anything on this – at least on the existing POA and other advanced directives, if the hospital does not follow them there should be existing laws that would apply. That said, it’s not like the feds can necessarily control enforcement or force a DA to press charges – so if they need a shot across the bow to say, “don’t do that”, then so be it. I still think it should be done via legislation rather than by decree though.

  6. I should add that I think there are two separate issues here. Visitation – which is at least a little more gray and ignoring legal documents which is a big bright line crossed. My guess is regardless of what opinion they might have on gay rights & marriage, anyone who claims to be a conservative and condones a hospital not honoring a valid contract is no true conservative.

    It’s not that I don’t agree with the visitation rights too – I do. Just that the other thing is so egregious, I mean we should be talking about maybe jail time.

    1. Locke, not all states honor all kinds of contracts. For instance, only a couple of states will enforce an open adoption contract (in other states, the birth mother can sue to regain custody later, if she knows the identity and location of the adoptive family, no matter what she signed). In Wisconsin, a sperm donor can be sued for child support if the insemination did not take place in a doctor’s office, even if both parties signed a contract beforehand. Courts will not necessarily honor a contract if it seems to conflict with a state’s family law statutes. There are also a host of exemptions for religious institutions (like Catholic hospitals) that give them broad latitude to enforce their own beliefs on their premises.

      1. marriage contracts are another example; i.e. MA, VT & IA recognized same-sex marriage….WI does not.

      2. Good points & examples Laurie & Jill – I hadn’t thought of that. I think I’d argue that such examples all the more illustrate why the issue should be addressed by federal legislation rather than Presidential decree.

        That said, I can understand where some of those things might conflict with specific state laws. I have a difficult time imagine what sort of state laws would conflict with something like a POA or living will. But then, I’m most definitely not a lawyer. Has there been any sort of justification for ignoring these things?

        1. Regarding living wills, some states have specific requirements regarding life-support measures. I don’t know if this is still the case, but 20 years ago, the State of Michigan required the use of a ventilator for 72 hours in some circumstances, even if the patient was determined by doctors to be brain-dead. Other family members may challenge a living will, and hospitals may be reluctant to enforce it if they fear litigation later. It is a CYA move for the hospital to continue giving care and to ignore the living will unless all of the assembled relatives are on board. This new directive protects the hospital from lawsuits from angry parents, since the hospital now has no choice but to honor the power-of-attorney and/or living will.

  7. Dear Folks:

    Just as a matter of affirming Laurie’s comment. My partner and I always have a copy – one in our car, one in our safe at home and a retrievable copy via email. However, even that isn’t good enough at times. I was admitted to the hospital for quad bypass surgery. My other half presented the docs to be copied for my file. The admitting person looked at them, stated these aren’t good here they are over 6 months old and proceeded to shred them. We live in the Washington, DC. It took our attorney getting a judge to issue an order for them to allow him to even know how the surgery was going. Imaging having to do this while your partner of 35 years is under going 12 hours of open heart surgery. We met in college and now are about to collect social security. It was insulting, demeaning and has made us suspicious of trusting the hate the sin love the sinners crowd. We’ve seen to much over the years. We now have only gay professionals – doctor, cardiologist, surgeon, attorney, accountant, dentist even the cleaning person. We don’t have to hide anything nor worry about their reaction to 2 old coots being in love.

  8. LGBT aging issues to take center stage at congressional briefing on Capitol Hill – http://www.thetaskforce.org/press/releases/pr_042110

    The press release highlights a couple in their late 7o’s & 80’s in California who had legal documents, but when one fell ill where treated with no legal or personal relationship. Their personal belongings were auctioned off and “the roommate” was forced by the State to lose his home.

    The link to the full story. http://www.nclrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issue_caseDocket_Greene_v_County_of_Sonoma_et_al

    Shameful behavior on the State’s part.

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