Obama elevates hospital rights of same-sex couples and their families

As reported by 

"President Obama late Thursday ordered most hospitals in the country to grant the same visitation rights to gay and lesbian partners that they do to married heterosexual couples.

"In a memo to his Health and Human Services agency, Obama ordered the secretary to ensure that all hospitals getting Medicare and Medicaid money honor all patients' advance directives, including those designating who gets family visitation privileges.

"The order also requires that documents granting power of attorney and healthcare proxies be honored, regardless of sexual orientation. The language could apply to unmarried heterosexual couples too.

"The presence of loved ones is more important during a hospital stay than at any other time, Obama wrote in his memo. Yet widows and widowers with no children are often denied the 'support and comfort of a good friend,' he said, as are members of religious orders.

" 'Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans, who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives,' he wrote."

"...The Obama memo is inspired in part by the case of Janice Langbehn, who was kept from seeing her partner, Lisa Pond, as she slipped into a coma. Last September a federal judge rejected Langbehn's lawsuit against Florida's Jackson Memorial Hospital, saying there was no law requiring the staff to grant Langbehn access to Pond's bedside.

"After signing the memo, Obama called Langbehn from Air Force One, according to a statement issued by Lambda Legal, which represented Langbehn in court. 'It was very rewarding to hear, 'I'm sorry,' from the president, because that's what I have wanted to hear from Jackson Memorial since the night Lisa died,' Langbehn said in the statement. 'I hope that taking these steps makes sure that no family ever has to experience the nightmare that my family has gone through.' "

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To read the full Presidential Memorandum, click here.

In response to the President's directive, Freedom to Marry Executive Director, Evan Wolfson, issued the following statement:

"The President's directive is a small, but welcome step forward.  It addresses one of the many ways same-sex couples and their loved ones are made vulnerable and harmed by the denial of marriage and the safety-net of protections marriage brings - in this case, the assurance that a spouse can be by a loved one's hospital bedside and participate in medical decision-making at a time of great need.  The Administration's step today, though small, will mean a lot to many people in harm's way. 

The President's memo is particularly noteworthy in its acknowledgment of how same-sex couples are uniquely affected by marriage discrimination and are thus in need of this kind of remedial presidential directive.  Of course, the real cure is to end exclusion from marriage, pass the federal Respective for Marriage Act, and provide all families the full measure of protections.  Piecemeal steps, addressing one protection at a time, will take up a lot more time than either the Administration or American families can afford."