Same-Sex Partners Finally Get Hospital Visitation Rights With New Federal Rule

While all the attention was on the Republicans' ridiculous political theater yesterday, the White House quietly announced a great piece of news for same-sex couples: federal regulations have gone into effect mandating that "hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid....may not deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity."

It's about damn time. It is downright embarrassingthat until now hospitals could -- and did -- keep anyone not related to a patient by blood or marriage from visiting his or her loved ones. Under the new rules, which were signed by President Obama in April, hospitals will also be required to honor patients' wishes about who will make medical decisions for them if they are gravely ill. If hospitals do not comply, they risk losing their Medicare and Medicaid payments -- major sources of funding for many of the nation's hospitals. The Human Rights Campaign notes that the rules will therefore apply to "virtually every hospital in the country."

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

The news comes on the heels of another major LGBT legislative victory, the repeal of DADT, although gay rights groups note that there is still much work to be done. The Post:

Gay rights supporters are pushing for 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 assistance 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.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at January 20, 2011, 5:14am

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