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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 02
Hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners now required by federal rules
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Hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners now required by federal rules

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Under new federal rules, nearly all hospitals this week are extending visitation rights to the partners of same-sex couples. The change in policy is due to the Obama administration's continuing efforts to expand the rights of LGBT Americans.

The federal regulations, however, only apply to hospitals that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding. The rules state that such healthcare institutions may not prohibit visitation rights based on sexual orientation. This is a major shift in policy for LGBT couples. In the past, hospital officials often barred visitors not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage.

In addition, many hospitals would not allow same-sex partners to designate each other as eligible to make major medical decisions for them if they are injured or seriously ill.

All that changed on Tuesday, when the new regulations went into effect. Now, any hospital found to be violating the new rules risks losing federal funding.

Gay rights advocates hailed the changes.

'Of all the things same-sex couples have to worry about, of all the discrimination and pressure we face, not being able to see our partner or spouse shouldn't be one of them,' Rea Carey, executive director of the national Gay and Lesbian Task Force told The Washington Post. 'This new policy will have a positive impact on same-sex couples and our families throughout the nation.'

President Obama ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to draft the new regulations last year after learning of two Lesbians who were unable to be with their same-sex partners before they died.

One of those women, Seattle's Charlene Strong, has gone on to become a national spokesperson on the subject and tirelessly lobbied state and federal governments to lift the visitation ban.

The move came weeks before the White House brokered a deal with Congressional Democrats that set in motion legislation ending the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. The bill, which passed in December, gave the LGBT community another significant legislative victory.

Gay rights advocates are now turning their attention to several other policy changes, including the use of more gender-neutral language on federal forms, assurances that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide proper assistant to Gay and Lesbian people and their children during disaster relief efforts, and a nondiscriminatory policy for the Transportation Security Administration that addresses the treatment of Transgender air passengers.

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