One Small Step for Equality

President Obama has made another controversial move today. He issued an executive order to the Department of Health and Human Services to end discrimination in hospital visitation. Here is an exerpt of what he had to say:

“Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

I’m conflicted on this. I’m very happy that, should something happen to me, I can make my own decision about who has the right to make decisions on my behalf and the hospital I’m in cannot override my choice. My partner will be allowed to visit me; hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid will not be allowed to limit my visitors to immediate family only. That has long been a contention with the gay community, and one I have always agreed with.

What I’m concerned about is the method through which Obama achieved this. His executive order, through checks and balances, can be overridden by either Congress or the Supreme court. It’s not easy, but it can be done. It is that very reason that Obama has refused to use the power of the executive order to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Maybe one issue is more heated than the other, but both are potential powderkegs and I don’t understand what his reasoning is for changing this universal rule without the approval of Congress, which would have been much more solid.

The power of the executive order is one that has long been controversial in and of itself. The president is capable of using this power for a myriad of things. Dwight D. Eisenhower used his executive power to forcibly desegregate schools. John F. Kennedy attempted to use his executive power to end race-based discrimination in employment and housing. Some small “holidays” or recognition days have been created by executive order. I don’t see a problem with the executive order per se, but it has been abused in the past – and in some cases, trying to do the right thing through this method has only resulted in more trouble.

Should I get into a serious vehicular collision or be shot in the head, there are certain relatives I would not want to have any right to make decisions for me. I should be allowed to choose who can be by my side. Should my partner ever be gravely injured, I would be absolutely inconsolable if her family were able to legally shut me out of her life. I cannot imagine standing outside the waiting room of an intensive care unit knowing that the one person I would give my last breath for is badly injured and I can’t get to her because her family never approved of our relationship and now they have the ability to kick me out of her life whether she likes it or not.

There are many theories about how this could end up working. Among them is that because there was no requirement in HIPAA that barred non-spouses and those not related by blood to visit in hospitals, executive order is perfectly permissable. For now, however, it’s nice to know that the hospital can’t kick our partners out in our moments of greatest vulnerability.

Let’s not forget, though, that this isn’t just about us. This is across the board for many different scenarios that have played out. Such policies about visitation rights have long been an issue for many different groups, gay and straight.

I’ll address the link to gay marriage later. Here’s a preview: I CALL BS!!!


4 thoughts on “One Small Step for Equality

  1. I complain about President Obama often, but fair’s fair and I was happy to see this done.

    Although I’m glad to see rights equal for all relationships, I’m particularly glad to see that a person’s body and what happens to it is subject to their own choices. As a parent, I realize this means that my kids can shut me out of the decision making process, but on the other hand – the same such applies if my children get married traditionally. How many horror stories are there about bad marriages?

    Fair’s fair, and at it’s base this is about contracts. Whether a marriage contract or a secular contract.

    I don’t think that the manner in which President Obama did this is at issue in this case, though, because I really don’t think anyone’s going to seriously challenge it.

  2. While I am happy to see this happen, and I am grateful, I also see this as yet another of Obama’s dodges….where he “has every intention of” but actually accomplishes little. Executive order can be challenged and he KNOWS the law (duh).

    Call me cynical, but I see this as yet another one of his shifty little maneuvers that cost him little, placates those who only examine the issue superfically, but won’t cause him much grief if it gets overturned. He can then put a concerned “shame on you” face on, and move on with no loss.

    BS from me as well.

  3. “Dwight D. Eisenhower used his executive power to forcibly desegregate schools”

    My understanding was that he used executive power, in the shape of the 101st Airborne Division, to enforce a court order. This is very different from an executive order without judicial or executive warrant.

  4. “For now, however, it’s nice to know that the hospital can’t kick our partners out in our moments of greatest vulnerability. ”

    Hospitals never did that. Hospitals follow the law. Unless you have standing to make medical choices for someone else, the hospital is powerless.

    Now things have changed in that respect and this is proper change.

    Even with the change, it is best sit down with a laywer and get your legal paperwork in order when you are partnered with someone outside of the bonds of legal marriage. This applies to all couples not just same sex couples.

    One of my uncles has been with the same woman over 30 years. They are not married. Their state does not recognize common law marriage. In spite of 30 years together they have no legal standing as a couple. I’ve warned them both about not having their paperwork in order. So I guess they learn the hard way.

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