Jun 292015

Two_golden_wedding_ringsAs I’m sure you know by now, the United State Supreme Court has declared that same-sex marriage is legal in all of the United States. Why was marriage so important, anyway? And what’s next?

Marriage is a legal institution in the United States. There are legal rights and responsibilities for spouses. Marriage proponents were not arguing for the religious right to have a marriage ceremony. Anyone who wants to can have a ceremony. What mattered, and why they found so hard for so long, were the legal rights. Many of these rights have to do with taxes, estates, the right to adopt, and so on — areas that are somewhat outside the realm of this blog. There are some important medical-related rights that are covered by marriage, including…

  • The right to hospital visitation. If one spouse is in a restricted area of a hospital (such as an intensive care unit), the other spouse has the legal right to visit. While President Obama did issue an executive order ordering hospitals to allow visitation for same-sex couples, it only applies to hospitals that accept Medicare/Medicaid. Most hospitals do, but it isn’t all.
  • The right to make medical decisions
  • Giving consent for autopsies and burial arrangements
  • Medical insurance coverage for spouses
  • Family leave to take care of a sick or injured spouse

Individual institutions can and have granted some or all of these rights before. For example, Google is well-known for its equitable treatment of employees in same-sex relationships. And some hospitals have accepted medical power of attorney documents with no question for same-sex partners. But it wasn’t universal.

For a long time now people in same-sex relationships have been in a legal gray zone. They may be legally married in one state. But cross a state line and suddenly that state may not consider them to be married anymore. This was because of the Defense of Marriage act, which is now null thanks to the US Supreme Court.

The US Supreme Court not only ensured that all same-sex marriages be considered legal marriages at the Federal level, it ordered all states to issue same-sex marriage licenses and honor the same-sex marriages performed in other states.

This should ensure equal marriage rights for both same-sex and opposite sex couples.

As the Onion and Boing Boing jointly pointed out, there are many many more rights that LGBT people lack that they need. It’s not just marriage. Many states still do not allow same-sex couples to adopt. Others allow discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, schools, or housing. Men who have sex with men are still barred from giving blood at the federal level. In some states, transgender people lack access to legal name changes, protection from violence, health care coverage, and equal access to employment. There’s still a lot of legal work to be done.

And everybody needs access to knowledgeable, compassionate health care. No matter who they are, what they do, or who they do it with.

If you’re interested in medical organizations seeking to advance health care for all people, check these groups out:

  • GLMA: Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. Despite the name, covers all of “LGBT”. They are the premier medical advocacy group, and maintain a list of LGBT and LGBT-friendly providers.
  • WPATH: World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Creators of the Standard of Care, which give providers guidelines on best medical practices for transgender people around the world. Also has a list of providers.
  • TASHRA: The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance​. A newer, smaller group “working to create a world where all kinksters have equal access to culturally competent, non-judgmental, and knowledgeable healthcare”.

And have a lovely rest of Pride month. We truly do have something to celebrate this year.

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