In comments, On Lawn wrote:
Laws don’t regulate who can and who can’t be visited by their beloved, hospitals do.
That’s a nice theory, but not how it works in real life. Hospitals can to a significant degree be regulated by public policy (hence the law being discussed in Wisconsin; hence Obama’s recent executive order, which is nice, but which can be undone the moment a Republican takes office as president).
…there are other ways to get that recognition still. Not having a DP registry does not stop a same-sex couple from obtaining visitation rights, it is not substantially a marriage benefit (as Anna noted).
The “other ways,” as I understand it, are legal papers: health care proxies, power of attorney, and so forth. But in practice, lesbian and gay couples have found again and again that legal papers aren’t reliable when they’re needed most.
For example, Sharon Reed and JoAnn Ritchie, partners for 17 years, had mutual power of attorney when JoAnn went to the hospital; they even had the paperwork with them. That didn’t keep a nurse who disapproved of lesbian relationships from refusing Sharon access to JoAnn’s room and bedside. JoAnn’s final conscious hours were spent without Sharon; by the time Sharon was allowed back into the room, the next day, JoAnn couldn’t be revived. JoAnn died not long after.
Another example: Janice Langbehn and Lisa Marie Pond and their children were on vacation in Florida when Lisa had an aneurysm. They each had granted the other power of attorney, but the Florida hospital chose not to recognize it for eight hours. For eight hours, Lisa lay dying alone in the hospital, while her spouse and children were forbidden contact with her. The usual counseling services that the hospital routinely provides for relatives of dying patients, were not offered to Lisa’s family. “Jackson Memorial social worker Defendant Frederick approached Janice and informed her that she should not expect to be provided any information on the condition of, or have the ability to be with Lisa Marie as they were in an ‘anti-gay city and state.'”
There are many more examples. Kristin Orbin and Teresa Rowe. Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson. Carol Conklin and Janet Peck. Bill Flanigan and Robert Daniel. Trey and Guy. Steve, forced into a sham marriage with a woman who robbed him, just to have control of his own medical treatment.
According to lgbt rights advocate Carissa Cunningham, these are not rare, isolated examples. “It’s very routine. It happens all the time.”
Andrew Sullivan writes:
When people talk about marriage as some kind of abstract matter, an interesting debate to be had, an issue to be discussed, they forget the actual, brutal consequences of laws that treat gay families as non-families and gay people as sub-human.
Heterosexuals have the luxury of believing that same-sex couples can just sign some legal papers printed out from a website and — poof! — the problems disappear. But the real-life experience of same sex couples show that legal papers are not a reliable solution when a loved one is critically ill. Trey writes:
Nearly everyone I know has a story of denied visitation rights, or ‘family’ swooping down and forcing health decisions against a partner’s wishes or contesting (often successfully) wills, or even walking into shared homes and taking things out. There almost isn’t a gay or lesbian couple (ok, i’m sure there are a few, somewhere) out there that doesn’t at least occasionally wonder or are concerned about one of their family members (we have one in our family) who would make life hell for the partner if their ‘family’ member became sick or died.. taking away health decisions or making life impossible after losing their loved one. The fact of the matter is, courts and law STILL overwhelmingly favors ‘blood’ relatives or ‘married’ spouses over the partners of gays and lesbians. Even wills and legal documents are superseded by ‘family’ law in many cases.
From the Florida Sun-Sentinal:
Wills, power of attorney papers and cohabitation agreements can create some protections of marriage. For $1,500 to $3,500 in legal bills, gay couples can guarantee they have the right to visit each other in the hospital, that property is split equitably if they break up and that the surviving partner inherits when the other dies.
Attorneys say such legal documents, which can be challenged in court, provide only the bare bones of the security that comes with marriage.
“Lawyers can only fashion remedies in haphazard ways,” said Dean Trantalis, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner and gay rights activist who draws up such documents as part of his law practice. “The law uses marriage as a guideline to provide rights and impose responsibilities. There is an undue burden on same-sex couples.” …
One of the primary functions of marriage is to make two unrelated adults into close kin; that creates mutual responsibilities, but it also makes a family that courtrooms, police, hospitals and other crucial institutions of society are obliged to acknowledge. Right now, heterosexuals are able to point to their life partner and say “this person, this person here – s/he’s now my closest family in the world, for all legal purposes” and (99.99% of the time) make it stick. Lesbians and gays don’t have that right. And real-life experience shows that the ability to write up a personalized contract is no match for being a legally recognized family.