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Gay Hospital Visitation Rights and Right Wing Reactions

Updated on February 19, 2015

Look at this face!!!

Look at this face!!!
Look at this face!!!

Clay Greene and Harold Scull

Clay Greene and Harold Scull -- Separated Despite Wills, Proxies, and Documents
Clay Greene and Harold Scull -- Separated Despite Wills, Proxies, and Documents

Gay Couples and Hospital Visitation Rights

On April 15, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order granting gay men and lesbians visitation rights when admitted to hospitals. This is the first major gay rights order of the new millennium. President Obama's decision might seem like a no-brainer, and it is difficult to imagine how any person could have principled objections to this decision -- but this is one executive order that a Republican President would not have signed. All hospitals in the US which accept Medicaid and Medicare funding (which amounts to almost all of the hospitals in the country) must now honour the visitation wishes of gay patients, and must respect gay patients’ choices about who may make critical health-care (including end-of-life) decisions for them. This measure was intended to prevent those gross injustices in which gay patients are denied access to their spouses, friends, etc. due to “family only” or other restrictive hospital policies. There have been many, many cases in which gay patients have been blocked from seeing their spouses by “family” members who have forced the hospitals to throw out such spouses on the grounds that they are not “family” to the gay patients (even in cases where the biological “family” members had long shunned and turned their backs on the gay hospital patients concerned).

To those who doubt the need for such measures – this has been a very real and persistent problem. In February 2007, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami denied Janice Langbehn access to her gay partner of eighteen years, Lisa Marie Pond, who had collapsed due to a burst brain aneurysm while preparing to board a cruise ship. For hours, hospital staff refused to allow Janice access to her spouse even after a legal power of attorney had been faxed to the hospital. It was finally a priest who had been called to give last rites who made sure Janice could say her final goodbyes. A social worker at the hospital defended the hospital’s actions, having the brazen effrontery to state that Florida was an “anti-gay state” (no kidding!).

Conservatives from the same organizations that now condemn this Executive Order have, in the past, asserted that gay marriage is not necessary to preserve the rights of gay Americans in this context because gay couples can armour themselves with powers of attorney, health care proxies, and other legal instruments (never mind the fact that these documents cost thousands of dollars to execute). The futility of these measures was driven home last year in the case of Clay Greene (78) and Harold Scull (88), who were separated from each other by Sonoma County, CA officials after Scull was hospitalized following a fall, despite the fact that the men had signed wills, medical declarations, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, and other documents naming each as the other's spouse. In this tragic case, which has given rise to a lawsuit against Sonoma County, Scull died alone after Greene was forced into a separate nursing home against his will. “They stole my furniture, put me in a retirement home and told me to shut up,” said Greene, interviewed in his cramped studio apartment in Guerneville, where he now lives alone. “They took my cats. They took everything.” The county took possession of Scull's personal property, including furniture, Oriental rugs, art, and other items of both monetary and sentimental value, and sold these items at auction without the consent of either man. According to the lawsuit, county employees and agents made comments regarding the desirability of the property, saying “this would look nice in my living room” and “my wife will love this.”

This is the face of such ugly discrimination...

The same conservatives who have, in the past, insisted that gay marriage is unnecessary to protect gay couples in contexts such as the above are now whining about this Executive Order, despite the fact that it does nothing more than guarantee against such abuses. Clearly, these people and organizations made such arguments in very bad faith.

Shockingly, the writer knows of a case in which the spouse of a fellow activist was flooded by “family” members who were intent on “saving” his soul as he lay very ill in the hospital; these same “family” members tried to prevent the friend's spouse from seeing the friend, on the grounds that his spouse was not “family”. Fortunately, justice prevailed -- the friend was able to get a court order forcing security to eject the biological "family" members of his spouse..

In response to this development, spokesmen for the “American Family Association” (AFA) and the “Family Research Council” (FRC) condemned this move, complaining that this Executive Order weakens traditional heterosexual marriage. Earlier this year, the FRC argued that homosexuality should be criminalized in America; now, this organization is insisting that gay hospital patients should be forced to die alone. Peter Sprigg, a spokesman for the FRC, stated in response to this Executive Order, that "President Obama's memorandum clearly constitutes pandering to a radical special interest group; undermining the definition of marriage; and furthering a big-government federal takeover of even the smallest details of the nation's health care system." How big of Sprigg and his colleagues to be concerned about this form of micromanagement of the healthcare system; but does anybody seriously believe that his objection is grounded in fears of a government takeover of the healthcare system? Another self-aggrandizing social conservative, Andy Martin (who has heard of this clown?) went as far as to state that President Obama had created a gay "Roe v. Wade" by issuing this Executive Order (never mind the fact that this Executive Order can be reversed by the next President with the stroke of a pen). And just how allowing gay hospital patients access to their loved ones will weaken traditional heterosexual marriage is, of course, never stated.

If one buys the line of crap spouted by Sprigg, Martin, and associates, this Executive Order is just another indication that the Obama Administration wishes to run our healthcare system rather like that of Cuba. Failing that construction, we should conclude that this Executive Order is a form of "pandering" to "special interests" in a concerted effort to debase the definition of marriage. (And never mind the fact that the "definition" of marriage, in five states and the District of Columbia, now includes gay couples who wish to tie the knot.)

In the last analysis, this Executive Order is a matter of simple decency. Those who oppose it are bereft of humanity and utterly devoid of human decency.

What, really, are their true objections to this measure?

In order to answer this question – in order to understand, properly, what it is that conservatives fear and why it is that they are so opposed to gay marriage – it is necessary to conduct a searching, and brutally honest, examination of their true motives.

Many conservatives hate gay people with genuine passion. They hate us viscerally, based on their warped preconceptions and stereotypical assumptions about our sex lives, and the roles we play in a society organized along principles of sexual difference and sexual dominance. We cannot avoid this – if we are to understand the conservatives' true objection to gay marriage, it is essential that we understand the true underpinnings of their negative interactions with gay men and lesbians.

Hatred does not arise in a vacuum. They are taught to hate us from a very early age. In our schools, the comment “That’s so gay” is taken to mean that the subject under discussion is worthless, unpalatable, disgusting, lame, or useless (all too frequently, teachers ignore this taunt). They hate us because they have been conditioned into hating us. Boys are expected, in Western nations, to be sexual aggressors in the never-ending interaction between male and female; boys are taught that other boys are competition, not a source of friendship (except outside of very carefully constructed and carefully policed social guidelines). For a man to show another man that he loves him is the height of betrayal of these sexual and social norms – the only displays of affection permitted between men in our society are supposed to be half-joking slaps and punches, coupled with insults intended to make absolutely clear to anybody listening that no sexual or emotional feelings are involved. This is both terribly sad and terribly effective – most American men are emotional cripples, incapable of showing other men (and even incapable of showing their sons) that they love them as more than mere sporting companions and objects of competition.

When a man breaks the ultimate taboo and is penetrated sexually by another man, all hell breaks loose in the psyche of homophobic men who become aware of this. This act represents the ultimate betrayal of manliness; there is an unspoken, but viciously enforced, social rule which condemns this activity as the height of sexual and role-model treason. Sadly, the repercussions of this mindset are all too open in the gay male community, in which “tops” are frequently viewed by gay men as “manly” and in which “bottoms” are viewed as “woman-like”, “nellie”, or weak. I know gay men who sneer at the prospect of “bottoming”, claiming (without even a thought as to the misogyny of this perception) that this is “the woman’s position”. These men have cut themselves off from the full range of sexual experiences and emotions common to at least half the gay male community – emotions born of being symbolically “taken” by another man instead of being the sexual aggressor. Men are never expected to be vulnerable, and more than anything, are never expected to place themselves in positions of vulnerability – and it is arguably true that a man is never at his more vulnerable than when being “topped” by another man…

Similarly, there are any number of homophobic epithets to describe a man who performs oral sex on another man (as opposed to being the recipient of such gratification) -- despite the fact that such a man does a lot more work than his recipient.

This is the root of the hatred felt by so many heterosexual men towards gay men. We are viewed as gender-traitors – men who betray their peers by conflating the “woman’s position” with male self-identification and sexual gratification. The most bitter of ironies is that this perception is laced with misogynist mythology, in a community which considers itself to be above such warped and sexist cultural tropes.

The costs of this hatred are all too obvious. Legally, they were represented by state “sodomy” statutes which forbad oral and anal intercourse between men and women, even in the privacy of the bedroom, up until the US Supreme Court struck down all such statutes as applied to consensual adult sexual activity in private settings between members of the same sex (see Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)). While the Court advanced the rights of gay Americans significantly in handing down this (long overdue) ruling (see for more about this decision), the resentment and hatred felt by so many straight men towards gay men has been a lot slower to eliminate from the public discourse.

It is only when we understand this and are prepared to address this, without beating about the bush and without losing sight of these dynamics, that we can even begin to understand the loathing felt by so many conservatives towards the concept of gay marriage.

Religion provides a convenient fig-leaf for this hatred. Men are never more cheerful when perpetrating acts of atrocity than whilst doing so in the name of organized religion. Hence we see many conservatives condemning same-sex activity (and gay marriage) as an “abomination” against scripture. The truth is that these people use their religious dogma as a vehicle to couch their visceral and personal hatred of gay men (more specifically, their hatred of what gay men do to and with each other in bed). While I in no way diminish the pain and suffering felt by lesbians, who are also abused by conservatives, I have noted elsewhere (see that the overwhelming number of objections to gay sex and gay marriage arise when heterosexual men, in particular, think of gay sex acts between men. The very idea of one man penetrating another man (whether orally or anally) drives these people into a state of red-faced, apoplectic fury.

Only when we are able and willing to face up to the fact that these people actually hate us, can we position ourselves to withstand their assault. Witness the furore surrounding President Obama’s Executive Order, mandating that gay hospital patients (in hospitals accepting Medicaid and Medicare funding) be able to designate their partners as visitors, even to the exclusion of biological family members (who, in all too many cases, have blocked the partners of gay patients from seeing their loved ones). What could possibly be wrong with allowing gay hospital patients to recover (or die) in the presence of the partners they love? Do some people really believe that gay men and lesbians should be condemned to die solitary and lonely deaths, separated from those who they most love and care about?

As Sarah Palin would say -- “You betcha!”



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    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 7 years ago from carthage ill

      great great hub I back your right to God life earth great hub thanks

    • philipcfromnyc profile image

      Philip Chandler 7 years ago from Queens, NY

      Hi, Ralph, yes the "American Famlily Association" and the "Family Research Council" have been the loudest culprits. I will try to find a few references to their venom...


    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Philip, Until I read your hub, I hadn't heard of any opposition to Obama's executive order, but I guess I'm not surprised that some homophobes are voicing opposition. I would be surprised if any major politicians opposed it.