President Obama on Thursday ordered his health secretary to issue new rules aimed at granting hospital visiting rights to same-sex partners.
The White House announced the rule changes, which will also make it easier for gay men and lesbians to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners, in a memorandum released Thursday night. In it, the president said the new rules would affect any hospital that participates in Medicare or Medicaid, the government programs to cover the elderly and the poor.
Gay rights advocates said the rules change was inspired by one of those cases involving a same-sex couple, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were profiled in The New York Times last year. After Ms. Pond was stricken with a fatal brain aneurysm, Ms. Langbehn was denied visiting rights in 2007 by a Florida hospital. Although Ms. Langbehn had power of attorney and she and Ms. Pond were parents to four children they had adopted, the hospital refused for eight hours to allow her and the children to see Ms. Pond, her partner for 18 years. Ms. Pond died as Ms. Langbehn tried in vain to get to her side.
It's not marriage equality by a long shot, but it's progress.
On the other hand, the case of Ms. Langbehn and Ms. Pond shows why marriage equality is so important. For all the squawking on the opponents' side about how legal safeguards already exist to protect the rights of gay and lesbian couples, those protections are flawed and weak. Despite Ms. Langbehn having power of attorney, she was denied access to her partner in the last minutes of her life, and her suit against the hospital was unsuccessful. While I am grateful to the President for this new set of rules, they are no reason to become complacent.