Monday, December 28, 2009

Law professors' conference addresses needs of same-sex partners in a "defense of marriage" state

Next week, the Association of American Law Schools will hold its annual meeting in New Orleans. This is the annual meeting of law professors from across the country. In acknowledgement of the needs of same-sex and unmarried partners in a state with a "defense of marriage" act, the AALS's executive director, Susan Westerberg Prager, today sent out the following message to all attendees. I am reprinting it in full here because I hope other associations with plans to hold meetings in states that refuse to recognize the needs of same-sex and unmarried different-sex partners will follow this fine example provided by the AALS.

December 28, 2009
Message to Annual Meeting Attendees:

Because Louisiana has placed in its constitution what is commonly referred to as a "Defense of Marriage" law, we have put in place some precautionary assistance for Annual Meeting registrants and their guests. This message is intended for those of you who are either unmarried but have a partner, married but in a marriage that would not be recognized by Louisiana Law, or who have a family member in one of these categories who will travel with you to New Orleans. Even in states that do not have such a law, there have been reports of hospital personnel who will not allow same sex partners visitation accorded family members, or who may even attempt to make the exercise of a health care power of attorney difficult. (For convenience of communication, I use the term "partner" in this message to refer to married and unmarried partners.)

AALS Managing Director Jane La Barbera has explored the practices in New Orleans, and has vigorously emphasized to the New Orleans Convention Bureau our concerns. We have received strong assurances that health care Powers of Attorney will be recognized by hospitals in the region, regardless of the relationship of the patient and the person holding the power. We have had that verified by the leadership of the Tulane Medical Center.

However, we do want to be of assistance to you in New Orleans if any of the following difficulties occur during the AALS Annual Meeting. Should any attendee or guest of an attendee experience a hospital refusing access (to the patient) to the patient's partner, or refusing the partner access to the patient's hospital doctors, or if hospital personnel are reluctant to recognize a power of attorney, we are providing the following list of individuals who are available to assist you. (The first is a local lawyer provided to AALS by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau without fee to AALS or our registrants. The second and third are AALS volunteers: Taylor is a Professor colleague who is incoming chair of the AALS Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues, and Jim is the lawyer spouse of the longtime Professor and Dean who is writing this message.) (I am omitting the phone numbers provided for the lawyers --np)

1. Robert M. Walmsley, Jr., Fishman, Haygood, Phelps, Walmsley, Willis & Swanson L.L.P
2. Professor Taylor Flynn
3. Jim Prager

All of these individuals stand ready to assist you with the hospital staff, and you should not hesitate to call upon them. They will assist in communicating with the hospital staff, working their way through the hospital's chain of authority if necessary. We recommend that you try to reach Mr. Walmsley first unless the hour of your call would make it unlikely that he would be at his firm.

Should you have difficulty reaching a member of this group, contact the AALS Office at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside by calling the hotel at (304) 561-0500 and asking for the AALS Office in the Marlborough Room. If the office is closed, make sure you have left messages for both Taylor and Jim, and try each of them again. I do recommend that you and your partner each carry with you a health care power of attorney. Even in extreme circumstances where the power contemplates are not present, it is a useful statement of your point of view about the person(s) closest to you, and that can help get the designated individual access to you and to your hospital doctor if you are hospitalized.

We, of course, hope that no attendee or family member is faced with the need to navigate such a problem, but we do want you to call upon us should you find yourself in circumstances where we can be of help. We very much look forward to welcoming all attendees and their guests to the 2010 AALS Annual Meeting.

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