Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Why Gay Marriage Matters, Part 2

A great article in the Philadelphia Inquirer a few weeks ago about all the legal and financial difficulties that face gay couples because they can’t get married. Even in states that offer some protection for gay couples, like the right to make medical decisions, they still don’t get treated equally. An example of a couple that has been together for 15 years and has an official civil union in Vermont:

When Heggs, 56, had a heart attack and a stroke, a hospital refused to consult Long. Heggs, who was in intensive care, on a respirator, needed a blood transfusion.

The hospital wanted proof that Heggs and Long were together, Long said.

“They wanted to see our marriage certificate,” Long said. “They would never do that to a heterosexual couple.”

Long, 47, said that when she showed nurses a highlighted section of New Jersey’s domestic-partnership law recognizing unions forged in other states, they didn’t know what to make of the documents.

So Heggs’ sister in Maryland had to call the hospital and give consent over the phone.

Gay marriage matters. It matters to real people just like you and me whose lives are made immeasurably more difficult in ways that the rest of us never have to think about.


  1. #1 fusilier
    December 7, 2006

    Just a point wrt medical consent. My Beloved and Darling Wife and I have been married for 34+ years. Under the HIPPA provisions, unless I formally designate her as “next of kin” she doesn’t get to make decisions.

    This is federal law; in 99.9999999% of cases, all someone has to do is sign the damn HIPPA form with the insurance carrier.

    James 2:24

  2. #2 Will
    December 7, 2006


    I think the point is that its not always that easy for a same-sex partner to to sign a form and be considered next of kin.

  3. #3 David C. Brayton
    December 7, 2006

    Hmmm…it seems that Long has a pretty good case against the hospital for the negligent infliction of emotional duress, maybe even intentional. If I were the hospital’s attorney, I’d reccommend a quick settlement and training for every member of the hospital regarding the requirements of the law.

  4. #4 Anne
    December 7, 2006

    Actually, HIPAA and federal law in general have very little to say about health care decision making. That is almost entirely determined by state law. In every state I know of, spouses are the first in line to make health care decisions for incapacitated patients in the absence of a previously designated health care proxy. HIPAA also permits health care providers to share information with family and friends without written permission, particularly under the circumstances described where the patient is incapacitated.

    Hospitals generally have selective vigilance with respect to these issues of consent and privacy. I was seriously injured last year and had to go into the hospital under circumstances where I was competent to give informed consent. My husband, who has a different last name than I do, was with me when I was admitted and every day thereafter. The doctors and nurses gave him detailed information about my condition and asked his permission to perform procedures, all without ever demanding evidence that we were married or asking me whether I consented to full disclosure. In fact, I don’t think they ever asked me if we were married – my husband told them I was his wife and that was the end of it.

    In contrast, gay couples of my acquaintance who have actually executed valid health care proxies face barriers even when the documentation is presented. All of a sudden, the same providers who are happy to share all sorts of private information based on my differently-named husband’s word become vigilant protectors of the integrity of health care information and decision making. I imagine it is one of the most infuriating aspects of being deprived of legal recognition of their relationships – even when they take all those extra steps that are supposed to give them the “same rights” as married folks, they can’t win.

  5. #5 raj
    December 9, 2006

    Further to Anne’s comment, it is interesting that, when my same sex partner was in a hospital in a part of Munich (Germany) a few years ago, and after I had visited him a couple of times, the doctors, nurses and assistants there treated me as one of the family–in fact some of them asked him how long we had been married. It is fairly obvious that if he had not been conscious, they would have allowed me to provide insight into the medical care that he would have wanted. And we had no documentation with us that would have been necessary in the US.

    What is interesting is that Munich is in one of the more conservative, primarily Roman Catholic sections of Germany. And they still would have allowed me to participate in his medical care.

    As the Germans say about the US, die gehen nicht vorwaerts, die gehen blos ruckwaerts. They’re not going forwards, they’re instead going backwards.

  6. #6 yazz
    December 9, 2006

    There is the attempt to establish homosexual relationships as no less preferential to society than heterosexual relationships, and this is especially true when arguing about the role of children as it concerns these relationships.

    Having children bridges the past and the future. Doing this represent continuity. Homosexual relationships, however, represent a rupture of this continuity. Mere homosexual acts in and of themselves may be more tolerable, actually, than “committed homosexual relationships” insofar as they might be regarded as no more of a hinderance to proper social functioning than masturbation, for example. But societal acceptance of committed homosexual relationships through gay marriage would effectively bestow social sanction upon a type of sexual relationship that implies the rupture of the social and political continuity of a nation.

    It just sets a bad example, so is not to be encouraged. The state, I believe, has the responsibility to encourage the best example.

    Homosexual relationships, then, are to sexual relationships what picking your nose or farting in public are to etiquette. It may do no one any real harm, though it is likely to offend. But as no one has a right to not be offended, I suppose we might all accept these types of behaviors, also, and perhaps even encourage those that engage in these behavior out of a concern for the principles of tolerance and equality. Yes, I am being facetious…. but I hope you do see the point.

    It sets a bad example.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    December 9, 2006

    Jesus Christ, where do you people come up with this bullshit?

  8. #8 Matthew
    December 9, 2006

    Responding to yazz:

    I’m of the opinion that the state has no role is “setting examples” good or bad. They should neither encourage nor discourage any type of behavior, except that which inflicts damage on others. This is because I don’t think the state has the right to make subjective judgments on what is good/bad behavior.

    Furthermore, since science has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that sexuality is biologically determined, the state’s subjective judgment on types of sexualities would in no way influence sexuality in the future. Even if you are of the opinion that homosexuality is “bad behavior”, you have no reason to restrict the rights of homosexuals, as doing so helps “good behavior” exactly nil.

  9. #9 Chairm
    December 10, 2006

    Matthew, do you dispute that marital status is a preferential status?

    It is not merely tolerated. Not merely protected. It is preferred and is accorded special status in society.

    Hence, as yazz said, marriage is the best example for all both-sexed couples. Doesn’t mean that each and every couple sees it that way. But this is a societal preference.

    Marriage is the relatively non-coercive means by which society, through the state’s authority, channels the tide of both-sexed sexuality toward the common good. Marriage itself is a good. Bringing the sexes together in a bond that extends to the children they create is the continuity to which, I think, yazz pointed.

    At its core, marriage is the compound of the integration of the sexes (the nature of humankind is two-sexed) and responsible procreation (transmission of human life is both-sexed). It does many other things, arising from this compound, and it has many features that vary across time and cultures. But marriage is both-sexed.

    There may be a one-sexed ideal that emerges when societies encourage greater tolerance of homosexuality. This appears to be unprecedented and untested.

    The ideal of a lifetime bond between two persons of the same sex is put into practice, in various forms, by only a small portion of the adult homosexual population even where tolerance is very high. So the ideal may not be normative — the best example — for that population. It might be, but it is too early to know that.

    Even if it is the best example for all adult homosexuals, it would not necessarily be the best example for the rest of society. In fact, marriage — integration plus responsible procreation — has stood the test of time in many different cultures in human history. There are different protocols and there are variable features, but the both-sexed part is central. But that part is extrinsic to the one-sexed relationship — homosexual or not.

    Rather than set up the new ideal for the one-sexed arrangement, or for the homosexual relationship, as the model for the conjugal relationship, it seems truer to the same-sex attracted people to develop, or evolve, the ideal to fit its own context — a sexual ecology that is markedly different from that of the man-woman combination.

    Whatever the similarities, the example of how alternative means are the primary means by which an exclusively one-sexed couple could attain children — apart from procreative relationships with the other sex — goes to show that difference is not minor.

    Consider that fertility is variable with both-sexed pairs — even on a monthly basis — but sterility is a constant with all one-sexed scenarios — whether lone individual, twosomes, or moresomes. That’s not a small difference.

    Consider also that to-date most of the children living in same-sex households were attained via migration with either moms or dads from their parent’s previously procreative relationships (typically marriage). Adopted kids in this country comprise about 2% of the child population; less than 1% of that population was created through third party procreation. The tide for homosexuality is quite different from the tide of heterosexuality. Society needs a best example for the man-woman combination. Maybe a unique homosexual ideal, or best example, is needed, as well.

    If so, make the case for it. If not, then, no preferential status is necessary for the one-sexed arrangement. Maybe tolerance suffices. Perhaps some enahanced protection. But what is it about homosexual relationship that requires society to provide a special status? Afterall, marriage is a special status, but one that is both-sexed. What is the independent claim for a special status for the homosexual relationship?

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