I wrote last night, about 2 AM, that I don’t think we should get excited in the least bit for President Obama’s memo about hospital visitation rights. A couple folks have challenged me on that (which I welcome), but I want to reiterate my concern again.
We should not give President Obama any credit or good graces for this memo.
If, as it seems to read, it still requires that partners have powers of attorney, then nothing has changed. The real inequity comes from what is required for couples to obtain those rights, not just have them. Rights like visitation, medical decisions, and inheritance are easily taken for granted by opposite-sex couples, because they all come default with a marriage license. Same-sex couples have to pay exorbitant legal fees to have each one drawn up individually. So the inequality is only partly about what happens at the hospital and is much more about the burden on couples simply to obtain those rights.
At best, this is simply a “wagging of the finger” at hospitals who don’t already respect powers of attorney that have been obtained. It’s not saying do anything new, it’s just saying do what you’re already supposed to be doing.
As Joe Sudbay points out today, this is also just a small consolation prize for all of the LGBT-specific provisions that were stripped out of the health care package.
Further, this didn’t require expending any political capital on the President’s part. As Richard Socarides points out, this is “the kind of thing the gay community was hoping Obama would do right after he was inaugurated.” I mean, seriously, he took 15 months to draft a two-page memo addressing one little right that has no legal force behind it… and we’re celebrating?
This is just a little carrot. It’s just a little trick up the President’s sleeve that he could have done a long time ago that he saved for a rainy day.
We simply cannot fall for it. That’s exactly what he hopes we’ll do.
My hope is that we rail on him for doing so little, for offering us this trifle of a gesture while so many real inequalities persist. We need to step up the pressure. We need to stop applauding inaction.