Gay men and lesbians will soon have virtually the same visitation rights in most U.S. hospitals as blood relatives and married couples under a presidential order issued Thursday night.
President Obama, in an e-mailed memo, directed the Department of Health and Human Services to bar discrimination on hospital visits and also to respect patients' choices on who makes make life and death decisions on their care. The order applies at all hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding -- which covers the vast majority of health care institutions in the U.S.
"There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital," Obama said. "In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean, a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them."
The order won't take effect immediately, but will open a rule-making process at HHS that could take months to spell out the details. Hospitals routinely restrict visits of those who are not directly related -- or married -- to patients.
Obama's move on hospital visits follows his administration's push earlier this year to repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" law, which requires gays to keep their sexual orientation private when serving in the military.