Obama nationally mandates hospital visitation rights for gays

Hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding better dust off their visitation policies in preparation for an update: President Obama made it clear in a memorandum released Thursday to the Department of Health and Human Services that discrimination in hospital visitation settings would not be tolerated, a directive that specifically had the expansion of gay rights in mind, reports the Washington Post

The nationwide mandate was made just days after Miami's Jackson Health System changed its own visitation policy to include same sex partners as part of its "family member" definition, a move made on the heels of a controversial case involving a lesbian--Janice Langbehn--who was denied the right to visit her dying partner--Lisa Pond--in the partner's final hours. The case specifically spurred President Obama into action, according to the Post

"It should be made clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives [such as durable powers of attorney and healthcare proxies], should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy," Obama wrote. "You should also provide that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability."

Langbehn blogged that Obama's actions provide hope for the next gay couple in a similar predicament. "In those short minutes of speaking with our President, it was clear he got the issue, and now in reading his memorandum, he understood what happened to Lisa, the kids and I was wrong on many levels--especially on the HUMAN level," Langbehn wrote.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also applauded the move, citing in a statement that "discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever." 

But Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, said that his organization "questions Obama's motives" behind the move. 

"In its current political context, President Obama's memorandum clearly constitutes pandering to a radical special interest group," Sprigg told the Post. "The memorandum undermines the definition of marriage." 

To learn more:
- here's the Washington Post article
- read Obama's memo
- here's Langbehn's blog post
- check out this HRC press release