This story is an inspiration to go out and get whatever legal documents you may need so that you can take care of your partner during their most difficult time!
There are so many stories out there of gay couples being denied benefit after benefit because of either government or personal bias. No social security benefits, no employer health benefits for partners, no adoptions, no preschool, the list goes on and on. These stories are like cockroaches, you may just see one, but thousands are lurking under the surface.
One story to recently emerge is that of Sharon Reed. Sharon and her partner Jo Ann were together seventeen years. They lived in Seattle, a pretty progressive town, for sure. And then, one day, Jo Ann's chronic illness got really bad. She was hospitalized at the University of Washington Medical Center. In preparation for such a terrible event, Jo Ann had prepared a mountain of legal papers, ensuring that Sharon would be granted access to her hospital room and her medical records. For the first few hours, Sharon sat vigil at her dying partner's bedside. And then the night shift nurse took over.
Turns out no one had briefed Nurse Karen Hully, or as Sharon calls her, "Nurse from Hell," on the legal rights of same-sex partners. No one told her about contract rights to visitation, medical decisions or power of attorney. And her common sense didn't guide her, either. Her religious convictions, however, told her a lot of nasty things about Sharon and she barred her from visitation.
The next morning, when sanity regained control and Sharon was let back into Jo Ann's room, Jo Ann was so heavily sedated she didn't know any better. She died a few hours later.
These stories are heartbreaking on such an enormous magnitude. And gross. To think that it's anyone's business who can and can't visit you on your death bed is pretty ridiculous. And the fact that at the culmination of your life the only relationship that has been deemed to matter -- more than lovers or friends -- is your marriage, only highlights one more glorious benefit for those heterosexuals out there who choose marriage.
So Sharon Reed, like Janice Langbehn before her, is suing Nurse Hully and her employer (Hully was a contract employee from out of state). Janet Langbehn's case has been repeatedly dismissed, but Sharon has had more luck. Her case is going to trial in April.
Until the relationships of those of us who can't get married -- whether it be same-sex couples, or unmarried heterosexual partners -- are federally, legally recognized as valid, I will continue to advocate for taking the legal route to relationship security. In fact, as Pam's House Blend so astutely pointed out, one of the leading arguments from the anti-gay marriage set is that we should stop complaining so much since we can contract our way into marriage rights, anyway. And that's true, we can sign paperwork and checks and more paperwork and more checks, and that may bring a bit of solace. But right now it won't necessarily bring us equality.