Friday, April 16, 2010

How Obama's hospital visitation memo affects same-sex couples in New York

Below is a message from Ross Levi, the Pride Agenda's Director of Public Policy & Education:

Today, President Obama took a very important step to protect LGBT families nationwide when he issued a memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare allow visitation privileges for the same-sex partners of patients. This action will not only make a tangible difference in the lives of LGBT people, but it will also help humanize us in the eyes of people all over the nation when they consider how they would feel if they were kept from the bedside of a loved one who had been rushed to the hospital after some medical emergency.

Fortunately for us here in New York, we have already had this protection in our state since 2004, when Governor Pataki signed into law the bill from Assemblymember Deborah Glick and then-Senator Nicholas Spano to ensure visitation for domestic partners on the same basis as spouses in New York’s hospitals and nursing homes. Even at that time, the issue was relatively uncontroversial—the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one dissenting vote in the Assembly. Polling showed 85% of New Yorkers thought extending hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners was an important thing to do.

But the President’s action will still have an important affect on New Yorkers in terms of how we are treated when we travel to other states. Now if we are vacationing in a state like Florida, we shouldn't be treated like the same-sex couple there who, despite having a health care proxy, were denied even visitation when one of them was rushed to the hospital.

The hospital visitation issue also shows how the work done in the states by organizations like the Empire State Pride Agenda not only helps the people living here, but also has an impact on the national level. The President specifically mentioned how the progress in states on this issue made it easier for him and the federal government to do the same on a national level. If a state like North Carolina can pass a fair hospital visitation policy for LGBT people—as it did last year under the leadership of our sister statewide LGBT advocacy organization, Equality North Carolina—shouldn’t the federal government make sure that there is stability and predictability for these families wherever they go? We at the Pride Agenda take tremendous pride that our work in New York helps build a national consensus and action around LGBT equality and justice issues outside our borders.

President Obama has done a great service to LGBT families and the nation by highlighting the inequities that same-sex couples face around real life and death issues. It should also strengthen our resolve here in New York to continue working toward full equality for our families, including the ability of same-sex couples to legally marry and have access to the literally 1,324 rights and responsibilities that New York State bestows on couples with their marriage license.

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