Today is Freedom to Marry Day again and we still don't have marriage equality in the United States.
Nope, we still we live in a society where heterosexual married couples can take their relationship protections for granted, while same-sex couples face uncertainty. Yes, in several states now same-sex couples have marriage and same-sex couples can get some rights through alternative-to-marriage relationship status in a handful of other states, but then be denied those same rights in another locale.
Marriage means not having to wonder if you are still considered married when you leave Iowa to vacation in Virginia. If there is a medical emergency, wondering whether you'll be denied the right to be with your spouse at the hospital or the right to make medical decisions for them. It means not having to worry that if, God forbid, your loved one dies when you are on vacation, whether you will be denied the right to claim your spouse's body.
But because same-sex couples are denied access to marriage they do have to worry about being denied these rights. Take the real-life story of San Francisco couple Bill Flanigan and Robert Daniel who were traveling from San Francisco to Washington, DC for a family vacation when Robert became suddenly ill with complications from AIDS.
He was taken to the DC hospital where Bill was recognized as kin and even spent the night at his bedside. However, as Robert's condition worsened, he was transferred to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center where he arrived unconscious. Bill advised the staff that he had medical power of attorney rights and that the couple was registered as domestic partners in California. The hospital staff told Bill that Maryland did not recognize domestic partnerships and that unless he could produce the advanced medical directive he should go sit down in the waiting room and call Robert's family.
Numerous heterosexual couples have told me that they've never had to produce a marriage license or an advanced health care directive to access an emergency room when their spouse was being admitted. Heterosexuals can simply declare they are a married couple. My friends, Tim and Barb, had a religious marriage ceremony but never filed for a marriage license. They've never been asked for proof of their marriage and they've made numerous trips to the hospital in the forty years they've been together.
Since the advanced medical directive was kept where most of us keep our important documents, in a filing cabinet back home, Bill sat in the waiting room for four hours and watched helplessly as other people were admitted inside as "family" while he was not. He was not even given the opportunity to talk with the doctors about Robert's wishes, nor given an update on Robert's condition.
Time was of the essence, so he got on the phone and called Robert's mother, explained the situation, and asked her to come to Maryland immediately. When she arrived, the hospital staff provided her with the information they had denied Bill. Only after she affirmed that Bill was the designated power of attorney for Robert, did they finally allow Bill back to see Robert.
But it was too late. Robert had already died.
He had died alone, while Bill sat in the waiting room, denied the respect shown other family members and denied the simple, yet priceless, act of being able to hold his loved one's hand as he passed. Since Bill was not allowed at his bedside, he was also unable to carry out Robert's last wishes, and to his dismay, Robert had had procedures done that he had expressly not wanted.
This situation was beyond disrespectful, it was cruel. And it was perfectly legal. Bill and Robert's mother sued the hospital, but the court ruled that the hospital staff was only following policy that did not recognize same-sex partners as family, regardless of the fact that they were registered domestic partners in another state. It is unfair that even when same-sex couples take extra steps to create family protections automatically bestowed to heterosexuals with marriage, they are treated as second-class citizens at the whim of anyone simply following an impersonal policy.
Denying same-sex couples entry into this institution hurts them and their families in tangible ways. We must continue to advocate for marriage equality in all 50 states and for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Please share this post and remind people why we should all continue to give a damn about marriage equality.
"Bill and Bobby were soulmates and one of the best couples I've known. They loved each other, took care of each other, came to family holidays as a couple, and Bill still babysits for my grandson. If that isn't family, then something is very wrong. When someone is dying, hospitals should be bringing families together rather than keeping them apart." --Mrs. Daniel, Robert Daniel's Mother