The President has ordered almost all hospitals in the nation to grant visitation rights and medical powers of attorney to gay and lesbian couples. President Obama mentioned this several times on the campaign trail. It's much needed and long time coming.
Read the Presidential Memorandum HERE.
The order effectively means same-sex partners must get the same privileges granted heterosexual couples, reports the Los Angeles Times.
"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. ... Several states, including California, give some hospital rights to gays and lesbians. North Carolina recently gave patients the right to designate visitors whether visitors are legally related to the patient or not. Delaware, Nebraska and Minnesota have similar laws. In his memo, Obama told HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to 'expand on these important steps.'"
The newspaper adds: "Although it is not one of the more controversial items on gay activists' agenda, the visitation issue could still inspire a political fight. One conservative thinker said late Thursday that the memo undermines the definition of marriage and represents government intrusion into healthcare."
But that is contradicted by the memo. The last paragraph (HERE and PDF) reads: "This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person."
The President's actions are inspired by the tragic February 2007 case of Janice Langbehn who
was prevented from seeing her partner as she slipped into a coma. Even after a power of attorney naming Langbehn was sent to Miami's Jackson
Memorial Hospital, the hospital refused to allow Langbehn access to
her partner Lisa Pond, who died about 18 hours after being admitted. In September 2009, a federal judge denied her lawsuit, saying there was no law requiring the staff to grant Langbehn access to her partner.
After signing the statement, Obama called Langbehn from Air Force One and offered his condolences. Langbehn writes at her blog: "Humility surrounds me and the next 3 minutes of my life. He knew our story and offered the long awaited apology – that Jackson Memorial STILL refuses to give – why is that? – the President could."
You will recall that anti-discrimination measures were supposed to be included in the health insurance reform bill. The LGBT provisions were passed by the House version but stripped in the final version that eventually passed. The New York Times:
"Richard Socarides, who advised President Bill Clinton on gay rights issues, said that while the memorandum on its own did not grant any new rights, it did 'draw attention to the very real and tragic situations many gays and lesbians face when a partner is hospitalized.” Ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to find a better way to handle such situations, Mr. Socarides said, is 'the kind of thing the gay community was hoping Obama would do right after he was inaugurated.'"
A small but very important step in the right direction. Bravo to the President and the White House. But: This was not a major action item such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and hopefully isn't being offered as a consolation prize.