On April 15, President Obama issued a memorandum supporting hospital visitation rights for partners of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and other Americans who are admitted to hospitals and whose caregivers or closest companions are not blood relatives or a spouse. It requests that hospital staff and administration respect any advance directives about visitation and decision-making people had in place before an emergency or routine hospital stay. While this move by the Obama Administration clearly shows support for LGBT families, it’s far short of what people of all sexual orientations and gender identities deserve: full equality in all matters under law.
The fact remains that even with this memorandum, and other legal documents and advance directives in place, same-sex partners can still be excluded from hospital rooms and prevented from providing love and comfort to their sick and dying loved ones.
Over the past several days, many blogs have publicized the heart-wrenching story of Harold Scull and Clay Greene, an elderly gay couple from Sonoma County, CA. When Harold was hospitalized after a fall in 2008, the hospital barred Clay from visiting his partner of 20 years. In a further affront to human dignity, Harold and Clay’s lease was terminated by Sonoma County and their belongings were auctioned off. The county placed Clay in a nursing home against his will and separated him from Harold, who passed away three months after the fall without his partner by his side. All this happened despite the fact that the couple had wills, powers of attorney and advance medical directives all naming each other. The National Center for Lesbian Rights is currently assisting Clay’s attorneys in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home.
Heartbreaking stories like Clay and Harold’s remind us that we have a long way to go before LGBT Americans enjoy their full and equal rights as citizens and members of society.