In Sickness and in Health, Gay Rights

A few weeks ago, the Obama Administration took another step in the right direction toward expanding gay rights. Nearly all hospitals are now ordered to allow patients to decide who may visit them and who can help make important medical decisions. Any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments (just about all of them) may not deny visitation and consultation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The order also guarantees that all patients’ advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected, and that patients’ designees are able to make informed decisions regarding patients’ care. The group that benefits most from this new order is obviously same-sex couples – and it’s about time.

What seems obvious to all of us has simply not been the reality for same-sex couples for far too long. The rights to spend your final hours with the person you love and have that person make critical medical decisions on your behalf, in the event you cannot, are crucial and something most of us would take for granted. But because of the stigma attached to gay marriage and civil unions, same-sex couples have been denied these rights simply because their relationship is not recognized or considered valid. Why should same-sex couples be told they cannot have their partner visit them or make medical decisions for them in the same way a heterosexual couple would in the exact same circumstance?

It is a distinction that has never made sense, and can finally be put to rest. There is no reason for some Americans to suffer this indignity and not others. As President Obama said, without the expanded visitation rights, “all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall.”

However, as important a step as this is, it is a small one. The larger battle for gay rights is still being fought across the country. The debate over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is still ongoing, with many military leaders calling for an end to the policy. The fight over gay marriage is far from over, with California’s Proposition 8 in the midst of a continuing legal battle that could go as far as the Supreme Court. Hopefully, this is the first in a series of steps that begin to peel away the various disparities in equality the LGBT community must endure on a daily basis, and one day all of these issues will be a thing of the past.

Many have said that this is the civil rights movement of our time, and they are absolutely correct. When one class of people is unable to enjoy the same rights as everyone else, the inequality is obvious. If America is indeed the land of the free and we take the words “all men were created equal” seriously, then we need to eradicate discrimination wherever it exists, in all its forms.

Kerry Wakely is a second-year Political Science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.