Editors' Note: Guest blogger Heron Greenesmith is Legislative Council for the Family Equality Council. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine and has written on several topics, including transgender workplace discrimination and the invisibility of bisexuality.
When Naz Meftah found out that one of her triplets was not developing properly in her womb, she wasn't prepared to deal with it by herself. But Naz's wife Lydia Banuelos, whom she legally married in California, couldn't travel to the California hospital from their Arizona home because Lydia's employer didn't recognize their relationship. Lydia couldn't be there when Naz needed her most, couldn't provide the personal care that Naz needed, make decisions for her, stand by her side when they lost their son.
Naz and Lydia's story joins hundreds of others behind the publication of a new companion to the ground-breaking All Children Matter report, released in October of last year by Family Equality Council, the Movement Advancement Project, and the Center for American Progress. The new pull-out, published along with the National Center for LGBT Health, focuses on the obstacles and opportunities facing LGBT families in ensuring health and wellness, including the ability of families like Naz and Lydia to care for one another and make appropriate medical decisions.
Depending on the state, unless an LGBT patient has specific and often expensive legal documents in place, his or her partner may be excluded from making medical decisions. When an LGBT parent lacks legal recognition as a parent, he or she may be denied visitation rights and the ability to make medical decisions for his or her child.
18 states currently treat LGBT partners as legal strangers, barring them the ability to make even the most basic medical decisions for one another. 13 states allow LGBT partners limited recognition - as a "close friend," for example. And only 19 states and the District of Columbia have LGBT inclusive medical-decision making and caregiving laws.
In 2010, President Obama issued a memorandum asking the Department of Health and Human Services to add protections for same-sex couples in hospital visitation and other critical health care issues. In response, HHS established a rule mandating that hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare funds allow patients to designate their own visitors, including same-sex partners. The rule also mandates that hospitals honor advance health care directives that designate a patient's same-sex partner to make medical decisions in an emergency.
While the majority of hospitals do receive Medicare and Medicaid funds and should therefore be allowing same-sex couples to visit and make medical decisions for one another, several hurdles still face LGBT couples and parents. Documents granting medical decision-making powers are often quite expensive. And in a health emergency, there isn't always time to pull together the necessary documentation and find a lawyer to assist you.
Even when couples and families do have the necessary documentation, hospitals and health care staff often lack specific policies and training that empower them to affirmatively support LGBT families. Family Equality Council and the other authors of the report recommend that state laws identifying hospital visitors and decision-makers should include domestic partners, de facto parents, and other non-legally recognized family members. Hospitals and other medical facilities and providers should enact specific, written policies on visitation and decision-making so that all staff and patients understand that all families should be able to care for one another.
Visit www.children-matter.org to read the All Children Matter report in full, along with an comprehensive list of recommendations for increasing the health and well-being of LGBT families, like Naz and Lydia's, across our country.