Friday, October 2, 2009

Florida's Dismal Record on Gay Rights Continues: Langbehn Case Against Jackson Memorial Hospital Thrown Out

And another update to a story about which I have blogged in the past—this one less happy. This concerns the story of Janice Langbehn and Lisa Marie Pond of Washington State. As my previous postings about the story note, while they were on vacation in Miami in February 2007, Pond collapsed and was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Where, she reports, neither she nor their children were permitted to see her dying partner (and their mother) for hours, though she had her power of attorney to make medical decisions for Pond faxed to the hospital. Langbehn maintains that Jackson Memorial staff told her she was in an anti-gay state with anti-gay laws, and had no right to see Pond.

Langbehn filed suit. This week, Judge Adalberto Jordon of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida threw the suit out of court, maintaining that a hospital trauma center has no legal obligation to allow anyone to visit one of its patients. As the headline to Tara Parker-Pope’s account of this story at her New York Times blog suggests, this decision ought to concern anyone who might anticipate having a loved one in a trauma unit, since it implicitly denies visitation rights to anyone in Langbehn’s situation.

And as Emma Ruby-Sachs notes, this transfer of emphasis from the ugly homophobia Langbehn experienced at the hospital to a question of visitor rights in trauma units is also “an amazing after-the-fact revision of events, permitting the court to uphold discrimination even when the law does not do so.”

Andrew Sullivan speaks from the heart about this decision, and in doing so, certainly reaches my heart:

A gay couple can be together for thirty years and still be regarded as total strangers by their own government and by their own president and their own Speaker. They can be denied access to hospitals, thrown out of shared apartments if one of them dies, barred from the funerals of their spouses, and denied over one thousand federal benefits. They can be forced to testify against one another in court, or be forced to leave the country in order to have a stable home if one of them is an immigrant.
Such couples have to disguise their relationships when entering through immigration (as well as concealing HIV medications in their bags) for fear of being split up by immigration officers and forced to live abroad as so many now do. Imagine a straight married couple having to hide their marriage from the American government in order to avoid the risk of it being torn apart.
One major political party regards this kind of cruelty and discrimination as something so vital it wants to enshrine it in the federal constitution - a position championed by the last "compassionate conservative" president. And his successor pays lip-service in small gatherings of gay activists, takes their money and work and support but will not lift a pinkie finger to help. All the time he is firing gay servicemembers for the crime of being gay.
He may believe it is prudent to wait. That is his prerogative. It is my prerogative to call the first black president missing in action on the vital matter of a minority's civil rights.

Amen. There is something particularly anguishing about seeing such legal decisions handed down in the Obama era. And that anguish ought to reach more than gay folks, since the price this Florida judge is willing to pay to sustain his state’s homophobia is to undermine a right of all citizens to hospital visitation in cases in which a patient may be seriously injured and dying.