Sunday, August 31, 2008


By now we all know what Obama said about us in his acceptance speech, but here it is in total:

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

Now I can't criticize the "live lives free of discrimination" part...amen to that. But as for hospital visitation, don't all hospital patients deserve visits from the people they love?? Don't all gay people deserve this...and isn't marriage a completely different issue?? By putting these two concepts in the same sentence, Obama has fallen into the rhetorical morass created by the marriage equality movement.

The rhetoric goes roughly like this...A lesbian is denied the ability to see her hospitalized partner; spouses are allowed to visit each other in the hospital; therefore lesbian (and gay) couples must be allowed to marry so they can visit each other in the hospital. So then Obama steps into this conversation, saying that we can't agree on marriage but we can agree that couples who can't marry should still be able to visit each other in the hospital.

But try this. Hospital accreditation standards include those who play a significant role in a patient's life, even if not legally related, within the definition of family. Neither gay nor straight couples should have to marry to visit each other in the hospital. Gay people without partners need assurance that those they love and consider family will be allowed to visit them in the hospital. Consider that LGBT people may be more likely than heterosexuals to move away from unsupportive families of origin and/or to more accepting cities or towns.

If we make any discussion of hospital visitation policies about same-sex couples, we are going to miss the vast numbers of unpartnered LGBT people who don't want their estranged parents given hospital access while their closest friends are kept out or who don't want to be left all alone because their families of origin live at a great distance and their families are choice are excluded.

In 2007, Virginia passed a law that requires hospitals to allow patients to choose their visitors. Gay and straight; coupled and not. That's the law Obama should support...along with a federal advance health care directive registry. He should also support LGBT equality..including in access to marriage...but not in the same sentence.


Rachel AB said...

Bella DePaulo is covering this same topic over on her blog from the single's perspective. This topic must be in the air since these posts appeared just about the same time (let's hope this'll create some force for change...). Oh, and Bella mentions a mystery novel that also addresses the issues of being excluded from visiting a loved one (a friend in that case) just because a friendship doesn't count in our society...

hesperia said...

I know this post is about LGBTQ couples and families and I agree with what you're saying. Just want to add that I am a single, probably straight person with no family living close by and intending to remain single for the rest of my life. I want visits from my FRIENDS in hospital and I want them to be able to cal and ask how I am, just like "family" which really, they are. I should be able to designate people to fill "family" roles too.

Oops, just realized there is a reference to this in the comment above. I'll leave it anyway, since it's "in the air".

Bella said...

Thanks, Nancy, Rachel, and Hesperia -- important points, all!

Bella DePaulo

Unknown said...

Nancy, brilliant! This is exactly what we put up with back when the first domestic partner legislation was introduced in San Francisco. There was at the time no requirement that same-gender partners be responsible for each other's debts. However to gain agreement to pass DP legislation that did nothing more than grant hospital visits, bereavement leave and health care benefits to partners of CITY employees (only), the proponent offered to make DP agreements "enforceable by third parties." This meant that in the mid 80's we were agreeing that creditors could sue the domestic partner of a sick person for HIV hospital bills in exchange for visits and time off from work. Gawd.

Thank goodness that DP legislation has morphed, but underlying all of this is the perception that gay relationships equal AIDS and dying.


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