You burst through the emergency room doors just behind the nurses who are wheeling-in your unconscious husband. As you begin to follow him through the next set of doors you are stopped by man in white lab coat. He asks, “Who are you? Where do you think you’re going?”
Attempting to push on you scream through your tears, “That’s my husband!”
The doctor’s hand on your chest now holding you back as he coldly says, “I’m sorry. I can only allow family inside and you are not family.”
“But I AM family! I’m his husband! We are married!” you cry, showing him your wedding ring.
You hold the gold and platinum metal tight in your shaking finger tips. Standing there defeated, knowing that the man you love is just on the other side of those doors wearing the matching band. You are powerless. You are lost in the dark. Your heart breaks as each of you is separated and alone.
This is what happened to me in 2002, even though California had had domestic partner hospital visitation rights since 1999. I have told and retold the story countless times in my many years with Marriage Equality USA as it blatantly highlights several of the key arguments in the case for full equality.
Since that time laws extending rights, benefits, and responsibilities have grown and changed for LGBT couples and their families. Visitation rights have varied not only by state, but in some cases by city or county. Then there are outlandish cases like mine where the law is in place to protect LGBT couples yet the hospital treats these couples inhumanely. There are far too many gut wrenching tales of gay couples being torn apart at their greatest time of need, but this ongoing tragedy will hopefully begin to dissipate.
On April 15th, President Obama mandated that nearly all hospitals allow partner visitation and respect for medical decisions regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While these are only a tiny fraction of the 1138 federal marriage rights that we are looking for, Obama’s actions will have a profound and priceless impact on LGBT families.
Conversations about our personal lives are our best tools to bring people along to the side of fairness. Hospital horror stories often are the most impactful because of the strong sense of solidarity that we all feel when a loved one is in need. It is that unimaginable instance of injustice that resonates with all people.
While Obama’s recent decision will only take us so far, what matters now is ultimately how we are treated by those working in the medical profession and how we continue to be vocal in the face of unfairness. The damage from decades of discrimination in hospitals across the nation won’t just disappear. It is those past experiences and those yet to be had that we must continue to challenge.
I hope none of you ever have to experience what I and many other couples have, but medical emergencies and long term health issues are all too real. Let’s all make the most of our new found protections while we continue down the path to being fully free and equal.
Stay loud Love Warriors!
Fernando Lopez has long been an equality advocate for schools and workplace. He began his work with the marriage equality issue in 2001 and since that time has built teams of dedicated equality advocates and organizers. Fernando is the former San Diego Chapter Leader for MEUSA and former regional field organizer for Equality California, as well as the founder of the Marriage of the Minds coalition he currently sits on the National Board of Directors for Marriage Equality USA.