I recently had to occasion to be vulnerable to hospital visitation discrimination. I am happy to report my experience was the opposite of the nightmare scenarios that are circulating.

My boyfriend of two years was having minor surgery, but it did require general anesthetic. He recently relocated from New York City (where I still live) to Boston. As such, while he’s friendly and outgoing, he hasn’t quite reached social threshold from inviting someone to lunch, to inviting them to accompany him on a major surgery. I came up to escort him to and from the hospital.He was having it performed at a major metropolitan Boston hospital, and to be honest, as the same-sex partner, it could not have been a more comfortable and respectful experience for me. (Thank you Massachusetts!) At no time was I challenged about the nature of my relationship with P. I wasn’t asked to show any documentation to join him in the recovery room. (Good thing, as we don’t have any yet. I should note, this is merely because we both personally are not yet ready to cross such thresholds, not for lack of access or opportunity, though many in our community face this hurdle too.) We never actually declared the nature of our relationship at all, to be honest. It should be noted as we’re a biracial couple, it’s pretty clear we’re not family of the biological type.

And overall, the staff treated me kindly and respectfully. When you’re part of marginalized group you quickly learn to recognize the signs of your unwelcome presence and there were no tells at all. The nurses chatted with me readily and in a friendly and warm manner. When it came time for post-care directives, I noticed P’s doctor spoke directly to me, looked me in the eye, and gave the instructions to me, acknowledging I was the one who’d make sure he took his pills on time, and followed other instructions.

Of course, this is Metropolitan Boston, Massachusetts. There are many horror stories from the current one in Sonoma County, CA, to the infamous one from Florida. So, the policy, is indeed, much needed and a welcome and significant step, and I wholeheartedly thank the administration for taking it.

And I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. What about institutions that object?

My first thought is Catholic Church is associated with many hospitals, and has shown extraordinary resistance to respecting policies requiring equal treatment of LGBT individuals. They famously closed all foster-care and adoption services in Massachusetts to avoid having to place children in LGBT families, and just did so in Washington DC as well. They infamously threatened to pull out of Washington DC’s charities administration entirely if the city passed marriage equality. They blinked on that, but still pulled all martial benefits, rather than risk having to pay for a gay employee’s spouses’ health insurance.

I’m encouraged by a statement released on Friday by Catholic Health Association (CHA), which represents the nation’s extensive network of Catholic hospitals:

“All persons of goodwill can understand and agree that when a person is sick, they deserve to decide who they want to visit them,” CHA president and chief executive officer Carol Keehan said in a statement Friday.

I do suspect, however, this won’t be the end of this issue. An article on Christian Post described “Some Christian leaders have expressed support for President Obama’s order to extend hospital visitation and health care decision rights of same-sex couples.” Note the use of the word “some?” But, even the notoriously anti-gay Focus On The Family group wasn’t quite willing to go on record that gay people should be forced to die alone contrary to their wishes:

Focus on the Family Senior Vice President Tom Minnery said in a statement Friday that the Christian pro-family group supports the principle in Obama’s Presidential Memorandum regarding hospital visitation.

Of course, the inclusion of “the principle” in seems indicate they’re reserving the right to object about pragmatic implications. Not so subtle, the Family Research Council, has taken an offensive stance, criticizing the move from the familiar playbook of “special rights,” and encroachment toward the awful specter of “gay marriage.” And of course, unwarranted use of “taxpayer money.” They always forget that LGBT Americans pay taxes too, huh? Is it just that our Medicare dollars support hospitals that would practice this inhumane policies against us? From the Wall Street Journal:

Peter Sprigg, senior fellow at the socially conservative Family Research Council, said his group had no objection to allowing gay and lesbian patients to visit or make decisions for their partners. But he said the order “undermines the definition of marriage.” He also said it furthers “a big government federal takeover of even the smallest details of the nation’s health care system. In its current political context, President Obama’s memorandum clearly constitutes pandering to a radical special interest group,” he said.

See also Sprigg’s interview with the Washington Post here. I do wish, when credible sources such as the Washington Post interviewed this man, they would provide relevant context for readers, like his on the record declaration that homosexuality should be criminalized. It might be nice for readers to know where he’s coming from.

And, surely, the Family Research Council will find a chorus, over at the Freerepublic, response to the Presidential memo was mixed. Too be fair, more than a few were actually willing to be ideologically consistent. Indeed, some admitted that “freedom” might be applicable to people’s freedom to choose who surrounds them in times of crisis. But comments such as this were also not unusual:

Christian Hospitals have rights to. Your concept of non-governmental interference, if you are to be fair, has to apply to them as well. If a Christian Hospital decides that from a Christian, biblical perspective, that a non-blood related “friend” who is homosexual, should not be considered next-of-kin from a spousal perspective, then they should have that right as well.

In the face of opposition, implementation of the policy will be key. It strikes me it will be as effective as the HHS is willing to make it. Of course, hardly a hospital in America does not take Medicare or Medicaid, so the policy will have great breadth, but will it have strength?

I’m curious what would happen if en masse or individually one or several of these institutions decided they did not have to comply? The biggest stick in HHS arsenal would be to pull Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements entirely. But, that would likely bankrupt any hospital and close their doors entirely. Um, yikes. Really bad time to be closing hospitals. And, frankly, not a public relations albatross I’d want hang around the LGBT community’s neck.

An alternative course is to fine them, by withholding a just a portion of Medicare/Medicaid subsidies, not an entirety. This plan would stop short of full financial devastation, turning it into a sort of “discrimination fine.” Would it then be seen as the cost of doing business? Like safety violation fines in coal mines, that are easier to just pay than address the problem?

Of course, recalcitrant non-compliance becomes a serious concern of another sort. I know ambulance drivers in my state are obliged to take people to the closest available hospital, without regards to the patience’s preference. Are LGBT New Yorkers then obliged to be delivered to a hospital that has a history of disregarding their wishes?

I want to go on record, that I hope such a showdown never transpires, but I see the potential for an ugly fight. I hope the administration has the stomach for it. I’m not seeking to rain on any parade, I just hope the policy has real teeth. It may need it. I would encourage the HHS Department to make complaints and violations easily accessible to the public, so the LGBT community can at least educate themselves. It’s worth mentioning one very often does not have a choice of what hospital they find themselves at, however. So and educated consumer is not always an empowered consumer.

Regardless how this plays out, this move is well worth applauding as it strike me as being at the very heart of the LGBT’s battle for equality: the battle to have our families recognized, which, legally, still eludes us more often than not.

Internally, in the LGBT community, there is some debate whether we’ve let the fight for Marriage Equality overtake our goals for ENDA, repealing DADT and other political priorities. Some have blamed our national organizations. There may be some truth to that. But I also believe the fight has grown organically.

I think there’s a natural “bone of contention” issue that’s arisen naturally. Even people who previously may not have much cared about the issue, or perhaps had much desire to marry themselves may have been activated by the right’s use of this as a wedge in the late 90s and 2000s. As they were forbidden to be seen on par, it may have struck a nerve, challenging them to think, “Well, why the hell not?! Why the hell should Larry King be allowed to cycle through bimbo wives like most people do tissues, but our relationships, some surviving decades, involving mortgages and children deserve no legal recognition at all?”

  • Don’t ask, don’t tell policy forbids soldiers from acknowledging their partners. Their partners can not be relocated with them as they are transferred from base to base. They cannot avail themselves of the same benefit heterosexual spouses enjoy, like healthcare or support services, And of course, there is no notification mechanism should their loved one be hurt or injured. Imagine how difficult worrying about a loved one in the service must be. Now imagine you also live with the reality you may read of his or her demise in the local paper first.
  • Uniting American Families Act extends the right to immigration petition to LGBT American, currently denied them. The LGBT families ties currently play absolutely no part in a DHS consideration for deportation. Even state-level marriage has no bearing, the DHS can and does deport the lawfully wedded spouses of LGBT American citizens.
  • DOMA forbids substantial benefits for LGBT Americans who serve their country as employees. Moreover, tax code inequities result in LGBT Americans being taxed on partner benefits that straight Americans are not.
  • Parental rights is a state-level or judicial crap shoot. Even LGBT partners smart enough to be meticulous about drawing up binding paperwork in advance may find their parental claim to non-biological children at the mercy of a judge’s whims, who often times have no legislative guide from which to make their decision. Bigotry may be their fallback guide.

Just a few examples of many of our government being completely dismissive of our families, and a reminder it’s a long road ahead. But Thursday was a happy day as it may well be stand out as a milestone.

Cross posted at the Daily Kos.

I recently had to occasion to be vulnerable to hospital visitation discrimination. I am happy to report my experience was the opposite of the nightmare scenarios that are circulating.

My boyfriend of two years was having minor surgery, but it did require general anesthetic. He recently relocated from New York City (where I still live) to Boston. As such, while he’s friendly and outgoing, he hasn’t quite reached social threshold from inviting someone to lunch, to inviting them to accompany him on a major surgery. I came up to escort him to and from the hospital. (more…)