President Obama late Thursday ordered most hospitals across the country to grant the same visitation rights to gay and lesbian partners as they do to heterosexual married couples.
In a memo to his Health and Human Services agency, Obama ordered the secretary to make sure all hospitals getting Medicare and Medicaid money are honoring all patients' advance directives, including those designating who gets family visitation privileges.
The order also requires that documents granting power of attorney and healthcare proxies be honored, regardless of sexual orientation.
The presence of loved ones is more important during a hospital stay than at any other time, Obama wrote in his memo. Yet widows and widowers with no children are often denied the "support and comfort of a good friend," he said, as are members of religious orders.
"Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans, who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives," he wrote, "unable to be there for the person they love and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated."