If this story doesn’t underline the very real problem of gay married couples being treated as inferior to heterosexual married couples, especially from a legal perspective, then I dunno what does. The Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, refused Janice Langbehn and her children the right to visit her dying life partner, Lisa Pond, solely on the grounds that – get this – she was “in an anti-gay city and state”.
Here’s the story, according to Janice’s personal account. In early 2007, Lisa Pond suddenly fell gravely ill when the couple and their children were about to embark on a cruise (it was later revealed to have been aneurysm that led to a massive bleed in her brain). The nearest hospital they could reach was Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. However, as an ailing Lisa was rushed into intensive care, Janice was prevented from being with her by a social worker. His words were chilling:
We arrived shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon, around 4pm, a social worker came out and introduced himself as Garnett Frederick and said, “you are in an anti-gay city and state. And without a health care proxy you will not see Lisa nor know of her condition”.
What. The. Fuck. How is it even legal to say something like that in such circumstances?
The hours stretched on and still Janice was denied the right to visit her dying lover; even the kids weren’t allowed, apparently because they were “too young”. How the hell is one “too young” to say goodbye to a dying mother? Who are these bastards?
Even though she had full Power of Attorney and also had Lisa’s Living Will with her clearly noted directives, Janice wasn’t allowed to visit Lisa for hours, until after her life partner had been declared brain-dead. She hadn’t even been kept properly informed of Lisa’s condition; only after Lisa had died was Janice finally validated as Lisa’s spouse when came the time to deal with organ donations.
This is a perfect, albeit tragic, example of how and why such lame cop-outs as “civil unions” just don’t cut it. If even members in a married same-sex couple can be treated so horribly on the basis of their sexual orientation, when they have full legal rights and powers, then how the hell can we expect those forced to settle with inferior alternative to marriage to be treated like married couples themselves? Why is it that spouses from heterosexual marriages were allowed to visit their sick loved ones at once, yet Janice was forced to wait in the sidelines, watching as everyone else was allowed to be with their loved ones but her? And only because she was a lesbian?
Thankfully, Janice fought back and sued Jackson Memorial in retaliation for the pathetic and discriminatory way in which she was treated for being a lesbian. Unfortunately, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan threw the case out, ruling in favor of Jackson Memorial and the bastards who prevented Janice from being with Lisa in her final hours.
"The hospital took the position that we thought was pretty extreme -- that it has no duty, no legal obligation, to allow visitors [of any sort] in the hospital. The court agreed," said Beth Littrell, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights group representing Janice Langbehn, whose partner of 17 years died at Jackson in 2007.
The court dismissed the case without deciding whether Langbehn had been discriminated against, Littrell said.
And, for the clincher, here’s the hospital’s official statement:
Jackson on Tuesday again denied that gay patients and their families are treated differently.
"We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care," Jackson spokeswoman Jennifer Piedra said in a news release. "At Jackson Health System, we believe in a culture of inclusion. For more than 90 years, the institution has taken great pride in serving everyone who enters its doors, regardless of race, creed, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. We also employ a very diverse workforce, one that mirrors the community we serve."
Added Piedra: "Jackson will continue to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at all of our facilities, where they will receive the highest quality of medical care."
The issue isn’t about the quality of medical care received, but about allowing family and friends to visit a dying loved one, for fuck’s sake. Thankfully, this is a world where people and institutions are judged, not by their words, but by their actions.