A memo signed in April by President
Obama that bans hospitals from discriminating against gay men and
lesbians went into effect on Tuesday.
The order prohibits hospitals that
accept federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid, the government's
elderly and poor health care programs, from discriminating on the
basis of a variety of characteristics, including sexual orientation
and gender identity. It also prevents hospitals from denying
visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians, and
requires officials to honor patients' wishes of who can make medical
decisions on their behalf.
Gay rights groups have called the new
rules a small but significant contribution towards equality in the
absence of the legal right to marry in most jurisdictions.
“The president's directive is a
small, but welcome step forward,” Evan Wolfson, executive director
of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement. “It addresses one of the
many ways same-sex couples and their loved ones are made vulnerable
and harmed by the denial of marriage and the safety-net of
protections marriage brings – in this case, the assurance that a
spouse can be by a loved one's hospital bedside and participate in
medical decision-making at a time of great need.”
“Without marriage equality, this memo
is absolutely critical for ensuring that the federal government is
protecting the medical rights of all families and not discriminating
against certain classes of citizens,” New York Representative
Jerrold Nadler said in a statement.
“LGBT families need and deserve the
same civil rights as other American families, and I applaud this
progress in that long struggle,” he added.