The call I expected from President Obama on the April 15 tax deadline never came. Having dutifully dropped off my partner’s and my individual tax forms at the post office, I went home to calculate the fees we incurred by having to file separately because we aren’t allowed to marry. In this time of economic recession, every little bit hurts.
Perhaps Obama didn’t call me to offer his sympathies because he was already on the phone with Janice Langbehn. In 2007, Langbehn’s partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, collapsed while the couple and their three children were on vacation in Florida. After being taken to Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami, hospital staff kept Langbehn and the children in the waiting room for eight and a half hours as Pond slowly died of an aneurysm. The children were finally allowed to say goodbye to their mother long after she lost consciousness, and shortly before she was declared brain dead.
Inspired by their tragic story, on April 15 President Obama instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to draft a rule ensuring hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, there are 1,138 marital benefits, rights, and privileges not afforded to same sex couples—or at least there were. After Obama’s memorandum, there are now 1,137. Good move, right?
Most gay rights groups applauded the announcement. But while it may have been a small step for gaykind, it is also, ironically, a giant leap forward for conservative anti-marriage politicians and pundits.
Because while Langbehn and Pond’s horrific story brings tears to everyone’s eyes, it has also brought shivers of fear down the spines of anti-marriage equality politicians. Denying dying people the presence of their loved ones doesn’t play well at even the most rabid Tea Party. With same sex marriage equality on the front line across America, denial of hospital visitation has always been our back-pocket nuclear bomb to drop into the debate.
By granting LGBT American’s this one single right, Obama has also taken away our most sympathetic “wrong.” No one sheds tears over joint taxes. Or the right to an easement granted by the National Park Service on land purchased by a spouse holding said easement. But the vast majority of the remaining 1,137 rights denied to same-sex couples have real day-to-day negative impact on our wallets and our dignity. They just don’t engender as much sympathy as not being allowed to watch our partners die.
So although I can’t yet say “I do,” when faced with the argument that LGBT Americans should have the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital, antigay politicians can now say: “They do.” And that will only delay the day LGBT American can enjoy the 1,137 rights still denied to them — longer than if Obama had done nothing at all.
If we wildly applaud as civil rights are bestowed upon us one at a time, all we’ve won is the right to die of exhaustion in front of our partners.