Obama released a presidential memo late yesterday to allow people to choose who gets to visit them and who gets to act as health care proxy, effectively banning hospitals that participate in Medicaid or Medicare (almost all of them) from not letting LGBT people visit their partners:
Initiate appropriate rulemaking, pursuant to your authority under 42 U.S.C. 1395x and other relevant provisions of law, to ensure that hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. It should be made clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy. You should also provide that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
While CBS and other media are reporting this as Obama allowing gays and lesbians partner visitation rights and the right to be health care proxies, but it's more than that. This is a "beyond marriage" win modeled on the North Carolina statute that lets people make their own medical decisions and decide who can visit them in the hospital, including LGBT people.
Families are changing, and laws that try to define who is important to you instead of letting you decide who is important yourself are out-dated and paternalistic. This is a step in the right direction, although I'd still be concerned with accessibility.
As Bilerico contributor Nancy Polikoff put it described the need for advance health care directives:
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.
As a policy, I think we can all agree that this is a step in the right direction. I'm going through a few rightwing sites and I'm not finding anything about this, although maybe they were just caught off-guard.
As for the politics, Andy Towle captures the sentiment of the few people I've talked/emailed with since this memo was released:
Still, a powerful step in the right direction. Let's hope it's not (as I fear it might be) strategically timed to try to quash disappointment over stalling, inaction, and/or loss on some of the larger and more comprehensive issues that are pending in our legislature, like ENDA and DADT.
Well of course it is. That's why it's being released now, as midterms are revving up and donors are needed, instead of some time in 2009. At least it shows that they're not really afraid of the Religious Right, at least not on this issue.
But I'd say there's about a 1% chance of LGBT people generally being appeased with this move. If you ask the average gay person who's angry at Obama, the Democrats, and Congress for not providing "FULL EQUALITY NOW" which ten of the 1100+ benefits from marriage currently denied to same-sex couples are the most important to them, it's unlikely you'd get a complete response. The idea is more about symbols of inclusion, along with the instances of discrimination that people have personally encountered.
In other words, notice how hate crimes legislation is totally forgotten by the folks saying nothing's happened for us since the last election. Those people's disappointment isn't going to be easily "quash"ed.
Anyway, I'm willing to w00t this development for now. Then, after the weekend, it's back to being mad about the fact that I can be fired from a job just for being gay. There's no contradiction there.