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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 01/19/2011

Hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners now required by federal rules

By Ed O'Keefe

Nearly all hospitals this week are extending visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians under new federal rules that officially enact a key piece of the Obama administration's continuing efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans.

The federal regulations, which apply to hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare funding, state that health-care institutions may not prohibit visitation rights based on sexual orientation. In the past, hospital often barred visitors not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage. Gay rights groups also complained that many hospitals didn't allow same-sex partners to designate each other as someone eligible to make major medical decisions for them if they are injured or seriously ill.

The new regulations went into effect Tuesday. Any hospital found to be violating the new rules risks losing federal funding, usually a major source of revenue.

Gay rights advocates hailed the changes.

"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," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "This new policy will have a positive impact on same-sex couples and our families throughout the nation."

President Obama ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to draft the new regulations last year after learning of two lesbians who were unable to be with their same-sex partners before they died.

The move came weeks before the White House brokered a deal with Congressional Democrats that set in motion legislation ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The bill passed in December, giving the gay community a signficant legislative victory.

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.

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 19, 2011; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Administration  
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Only the most most heartless, lowest of the low could possibly oppose this rule. Good bet that the spokespeople for the radical right will go bonkers over it.

This rule is a prime example of one of the key roles of government: to prevent abuses of the public by the private sector.

Posted by: dl49 | January 19, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad that Obama put this law in allowing gays and lesbians to make the medical decision for their partner. Hopefully we do more for them so they can get the same treatment as straight in america.

Posted by: mtt_brbr | January 19, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Once again we pander to the Gay community and continue to discriminate against others.

So unmarried gay couples get visitation rights yet unmarried straight couples do not. How is this fair?

It seems to me that the previous restrictions were LESS discriminatory. Now unmarried couples get visitation rights but ONLY if they are gay. Before it was applied equally to ALL ummarried couples gay or otherwise.

Or what about best friends? Is having sex with someone the only qualifier for being important in ones life?

Posted by: BradG | January 19, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Really? This wasn't allowed before? That's shameful. Were hospitals affraid guys might kiss eachother in the patient's room?

Posted by: MerGyver | January 19, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

How could this have happened? I was told only gay marriage could solve the hospital visitation question.

Of course, neither one is a real solution. Why can't a patient designate ANYONE for visitation?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 19, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Well, BradG, if you were really against discrimination, surely you would support the rights of gay marriage, correct? I mean, straight couples can get married, but not gay couples. I would be interested to hear how that is not discrimination, but what you are complaining about is.

Posted by: largewu | January 19, 2011 11:52 AM | Report abuse

A patient should able to designate anyone for visitation and decision making. There are some people who are not married, do not have a partner and do not have any family. They should be able to name a friend for visitation and or decision making.

Posted by: Shadow10 | January 19, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

So, if incapacitated, the hospital will restrict visitation to blood relatives, related by marriage, or anyone who's gay?

"In the past, hospital often barred visitors not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage."

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | January 19, 2011 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it have been simpler for Obama to establish a federal civil union which all people could take advantage of? Oh I guess hospital visitation is OK for gays/lesbians but not marriage. Please Mr. Obama explain the difference??

Posted by: crete | January 19, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Why do you even need a civil union? Why should I have to have a civil union so my best friend can visit me in the hospital?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 19, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Good. This is as it should be.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | January 19, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

The fact that this was even ever a problem makes me wonder about the heart of people. I'm a nurse and if someone was dying and had a same sex partner, I'd damn any rules and let them in, even if it meant my job. Thank goodness we now have a law to keep bigots from this type of inhumane treatment.

Posted by: 00dontpanic00 | January 19, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

This is great news! One of the worst aspects of anti-gay discrimination was (in my opinion) the fact that people were prevented from seeing their loved ones when they're most needed. I'm glad to see it abolished.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | January 19, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Great. Now how about the sheep and goats? Isn't that discrimination too? Any lifestyle that relies on euphemisms to describe itself is suspect. Where will it stop?

Posted by: member8 | January 19, 2011 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Finally. This is the 21st century, afterall.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 19, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

This is terrific news.

A couple married one second has nearly a thousand special privileges granted by a single piece of paper.

However, gay couples (male/male and female/female) who have been together for months or years or decades have none of those including the right to see their partner in the hospital.

Some hospitals allowed visitation. Other hospitals banned same sex partners because they were not related by blood or marriage.

Just imagine, if you can, that your partner of 10, 20 or 30 years is lying in a hospital room dying - you are the only "family" they have and yet the doctors and nurses WILL TELL YOU NOTHING because you are not family, they WILL NOT LET YOU SEE THEM ... BE WITH THEM in their last moments.

A straight couple, even not married is rarely prevented from seeing a loved on in a hospital ... girlfriends and boyfriends are usually allowed and i have NEVER known of a hospital requiring a straight couple to produce a marriage certificate so straights could always lie and say they are married - even with different last names - lots of women now keep their maiden names.

My HUSBAND and I have been together for 19.6 years now. We have lived together for 18.6 of those year and we bought a house together in 1995. And yet, until Tuesday, if one of us was sick and in the hospital it was a toss up as to whether or not we could see each other.

For all those nay-saying this legislation you are pretty shallow and petty creatures that you cannot even understand that pain and anguish that people go through when they cannot be with their loved ones when they are ill.

As for those who are trying to make this out to be about "best friends" or "friends" or "any gay person" you don't know what you are talking about. Just spouting stupid rhetoric spewed by hate mongers!

This is the 21st century - special legislation to grant rights to couples should not be needed and yet until gay people are allowed to marry and have the FULL benefits enjoyed by straights then it will have to be pieced together in a hodge podge of legislation.


If you don't want a gay marriage then marry someone of your own gender but don't say that I have to do the same!

Posted by: PhilBear | January 19, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Have an STD? you are not alone.Find others with same STD at site named STDRomance. you may be upset and think your sex life is over. However, once you settle down and learn the facts, you'll realize that having STD is not the end of the world, and it's not the end of your social life.

Posted by: herpesfinder | January 19, 2011 10:56 PM | Report abuse


You seem to be building a strawman there.

I am in favor of deregulating marriage. Marriage should be a contract between consenting adults. Government has no place in deciding who can be married. I have no issue with any sort of marriage. Whether that be Hetero, Same-sex, Polygamy or Incest. What people decide to do of their own free will is of no concern to the government.

Posted by: BradG | January 20, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

If I want my best friend to visit me in the hospital, do I have to claim that we're homosexual partners? What if my best friend is of a different gender? Do I have to claim that we are transvestites?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 20, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse


I'm posting this comment to all those who complain that this somehow panders to gays and leaves out "best friends" or "unmarried straight couples" or whatever.

The fault lies with By Ed O'Keefe's article because it does not go into much detail.

Under the new regulations, hospitals must now inform patients, or an attending friend or family member, of their rights to VISITORS OF THEIR CHOOSING. The policy also prohibits discrimination against visitors based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

So if you want your best friend's neighbor's son-in-law's cousin's (twice removed) wife to be able to visit, you can!

Gay straight black white jew italian... married, unmarried... doesn't matter.

Patients get to say who their visitors are. Period.

That's the facts and that's all from me. You can all go back to your gay bashing now.

Posted by: Len_RI1 | January 20, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

If that's true, Len_RI1, thank you. Ed does get a little obsessed with these things. Allowing people to choose their own hospital visitors should be obvious. Restricting them to spouses and homosexual partners is sickeningly discriminatory.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 21, 2011 10:28 AM | Report abuse

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