Bill makes a good point about the Schiavo case as relates to gay couples, citing this Newsday article, which cites the Sharon Kowalski case from years ago as an example that gay and lesbian couples struggled down this path long ago, and still do every day.
As the fight over Terri Schiavo’s fate played out in court, gay and lesbian organizations watched quietly from the sidelines, aware that any outcome would speak to one of the key motivations in their quest for same-sex marriage: the right to make medical decisions for a partner.
It’s an issue faced regularly by same-sex couples, and the battle that Michael Schiavo waged with his in-laws as he sought to remove his wife’s feeding tube only underscored their difficulties, said David Buckel of the New York-based gay rights group Lambda Legal.
“It certainly resonates with us,” said Buckel, director of marriage-related activities for Lambda Legal. “If folks look at this situation and see that a spouse is struggling to carry out the wishes of his loved one, imagine what folks face when they don’t even have access to the spousal relationship because they can’t get married.”
But one thing about the case that has been brought to the forefront is the power of marriage in making life and death decisions. Without the power of marriage, none of this would have happened. Michael Shiavo would have had no say about Terri’s fate.
I’ve read over and over again that Terri Schiavo’s parents have been through nearly 30 court hearings, appeals, and judgements, all of which went in Michael Schiavo’s favor. That means that 30 times, the courts found for Michael Schiavo, at least in part, because he is Terri Schiavo’s legal spouse. As her husband, he has the right to not just be involved in decisions about her medical care, but to make those decisions in her best interests if she cannot make them herself. All because they stood in front of a minister or a justice o’ the peace and said “I do,” and the state issued them a license.
More than a few times I’ve thought about what would happen if my husband or I were in the same situation as Terri Schiavo. Being a gay couple, we couldn’t assume that either of us would even be allowed to see the other in the hospital, because we are legally strangers to each other. For those reasons, we had our adoption lawyer also draw up advance directives, and medical powers of attorney for each of us that gave the other the right to make medical decisions for us if we could not. That might give us access to one of the rights that legally married couples take for granted. But it might not.
GLAD is representing several couples in a lawsuit to try to force the Connecticut Department of Public Health to recognize same-sex marriage. Two of the women involved, Carol Conklin, 51, and Janet Peck, 53, of Colchester, Conn., have been together nearly 30 years but say they still are not ensured access to each other in the hospital.
After Peck underwent major surgery, Conklin was initially denied permission to visit her in intensive care. When she identified herself as Peck’s partner, the attending nurse said she did not know what that meant. Conklin was not allowed to designate herself Peck’s next of kin during another hospitalization.
…Such cases rarely make headlines, but they are no less tragic than the Schiavos’ situation.
Two years ago, a Baltimore jury rejected a claim by Bill Flanigan, 38, of San Francisco, who sued Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center of the University of Maryland medical system after it did not let him visit his partner, 32-year-old Robert Daniel, as he died of AIDS. “By the time he finally got into the hospital room, his partner had lost consciousness and never regained it, and they never had a chance to say goodbye,” said Buckel.
There are states like Virginia, which recently outlawed not only same sex marriage, but any contracts or arrangements bewteen same sex couples that even resemble the rights and protections of marriage. Staying out of Virginia isn’t exactly an option for us, so what if something happens and one of us ends up in a Virginia? Will we be allowed to see each other? Despite the medical power of attorney, it might come something as basic as the disposition of womever happens to be in charge of the nurses desk that day. If it happens to be Betty Biblethumper, we’d be screwed. And then there are states like Oklahoma, which outlawed adoptions by gays over a year ago, and prohibited the recognition of gay adoptions finalized outside of the state. So, if we travel through Oklahoma, is our son no longer legally our son while we’re in the state? And if he had to go to a hospital while we were in the state, would we have any legal rights as his parents, even to see him?
Civil unions and domestic partnerships, the article points out, might not help, because they don’t necessarily apply outside of the state where they ioriginate. If you’re gay, coupled and traveling in this “free” country of ours, you’d better have your papers (medical powers of attorney, advance directive, wills, adoption decrees, etc.) with you. Even if they might not do you any good, they stand a better chance of being helpful if you have them.
Married heterosexuals, however, only need their word and the rings on their fingers, most of the time.