Friday, January 26, 2007

Dying Alone at a Hospital

According to 365 gay news: In Washington state, there was a recent flood. "Charlene Strong told how partner Kate Fleming got trapped in the basement studio where she ran an audio company. As the water rose she was unable to open the door to get out.

Rescuers finally broke through and rushed Fleming to an area hospital.

But at the hospital Strong was told told she could not be with her dying partner of nearly 10 years because she was not a relative. Finally officials relented when a family member interceded. Fleming died moments later."

This happened in Washington state, a very progressive state that allows same-sex adoption and will likely legislate civil unions or marriage soon. I would also venture to say this woman was lucky in that her dying partner's family allowed her into the hospital room. My experience working with gay men dying of AIDS is that families are not always so nice at this very difficult time. In fact, I experienced countless partners who were not only kept out of the hospital room, but were also thrown out of their houses when the houses weren't in their names.

In Georgia, we have no automatic legal rights to visit a dying loved one in the hospital because under the law and hospital policies, we are "legal strangers" to our partners. The only remedy we have is to have documents called Advanced Directives, but how many of us actually have those documents, and what happens when we have gone to the trouble and expense of creating the documents and we don't have them with us when it truly matters?

When we travel, do we carry them around with us? If one of us were suddenly in a car accident, do we have the documents in our cars, offices, etc.?

My family has gone to the expense of creating such documents, but I have to admit we rarely have them with us when we travel.

Married couples do have an automatic legal right to visit their loved ones in a hospital. So, when people say marriage doesn't matter, we really have to think about this when sometimes there will only be moments to hold our loved-one's hands.


Not being able to sleep has it advantages or disadvantages depending how you look at it. It gives me the opportunity to finally start that new blog I was thinking about. But is starting a new blog at 4:30am the best idea? Either way, here it is.

I went to a "Beyond Marriage" panel the other night in Athens, GA (at the University of Georgia). Beyond Marriage folks generally don't support the same-sex marriage equality movement, or at least they think we should be focusing on "more important issues." I was there to defend why marriage equality is an important part of the so-called "gay agenda."

Two things struck me from that evening. I was at first struck by how hard it was for me to separate the personal from the professional. You see, I lead a gay family group in Georgia, and I imagine I was invited to speak because I might have had a strong political viewpoint about the whole same-sex marriage topic. That didn't really happen for me that evening. I was struck by my emotional reaction to another panelist who was a member of the LGBTQ community who not only didn't support same-sex marriage, but also didn't believe in marriage at all.

I should also tell you at this point that I am legally married in Massachusetts, for whatever that is worth in Georgia.

For some reason, it really pains me to hear members from the LGBTQ community talk down about marriage. I find it much easier for the right-wing wackos to hurl insults and lies about same-sex marriage than I can stand from a member of the LGBTQ community. Maybe it's like hearing your parents insult or not support you versus a total stranger. It just hurts more.

The second thing that struck me that evening was how much of my same-sex marriage position was shaped by the American values I learned in high school by a few good teachers. In much of my world, you don't really hear LGBT people or progressive people saying they identify with American values (certainly not when you have a renegade President who believes he is above the law). But, I do, which is a big reason why I believe marriage belongs to gay and lesbian people, and anything short of that is not allowing us to be treated as equal citizens.

After 9/11, my good friend Rob, who is also a gay-right's activist, was shocked when I told him I identified as an American before my gay identity (on the list of identities we all carry around). I am not sure if this is still true now that the cloud of intense post 9/11 fear has been lifted from most of our lives. Now most of us our anti-war supporters, which I think makes us stronger in our American identity (even though I am sure our own government views us as enemies of the state with their photo takers at Peace rallies). I digress.

The bottom line for me is this: I was raised to believe all citizens should be treated equally (incidentally, this was before I embraced a gay identity). I was also raised in a culture where marriage was a valued institution, and by parents who have a fairly good marriage without the gender stereotypes. The messages I received growing up helped me form the idea that marriage is something I would likely do in my lifetime. On the panel the other night, it struck me how conservative these values are in the supposed LGBTQ community. How did the once liberal Kathy Kelly become so conservative? Maybe it is age, or maybe it was just the group of Queer people I was around the other night. Who knows.

Thus, it is true I love the woman I am married to, and I want all the tangible and intangible benefits that go along with it. I can't help but think it will matter one day to my now almost 2 year old daughter that her moms are married. It surprisingly made a big difference to my wife and me...