Same-sex visitation rights: Opposing White House intervention

Peter Sprigg
Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, Family Research Council
Friday, April 16, 2010; 2:30 PM

President Obama mandated Thursday that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients' choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans.

Peter Sprigg, senior fellow of Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, was online Friday, April 16, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the reasons why the organization is against White House intervention.


Peter Sprigg: Hi, Peter Sprigg here with the Family Research Council. I look forward to your questions about President Obama's hospital visitation memorandum.


Fairfax, Va.: Why do you believe that the Obama memo grants special rights to gays and lesbians?

Peter Sprigg: We actually have no problem with homosexuals being able to visit their partners in the hospital. On this issue (unlike some other "benefits of marriage," including ones that cost taxpayer money), we take a libertarian stance--the patient's wishes should prevail. But we feel that can be achieved through private contractual arrangements, and White House intervention is unnecessary. However, this issue is usually raised in support of changing the definition of marriage.


Washington, D.C.: I have visited friends and family in the hospital many times and have never been asked to prove that I am a family member. Is this a real problem? Or does the president have other ulterior motives here?

Peter Sprigg: You have hit on a key point. To hear the advocates of same-sex "marriage" talk, you would think that hospitals are surrounded by airport-level security and require 4 forms of ID for someone to visit. Anyone who regularly visits hospitals knows this is untrue--for the most part, you just walk in. There may be exceptions (intensive care, for example), but this "problem" has been greatly exaggerated in order to generate an emotional reaction that will increase support for same-sex "marriage." For the most part, the President's memo is a solution in search of a problem.


Alexandria, Va.: The way I understand this directive is that it is not specifically geared towards same-sex couples, but visitation rights, in general. So, if I have no family, but live with a good friend, that person would be able to visit me in the hospital, since they are the closest living person to me. Why can't we focus on that instead of the gay/lesbian thing? Why fan a fire that isn't there?

Peter Sprigg: You are right--the media is focusing in on the same-sex couple issue more specifically than the actual memorandum does. Granting patient's autonomy and self-determination in deciding who can visit them or make medical decisions in an emergency is a good thing, and with advance directives it does not have to be based on a family or marital relationship--or even a sexual one. Unfortunately, this issue has been inflated in support of redefining marriage.


Trying to follow your logic: So, the government telling hospitals that they can't forbid gays from seeing their ill partners is a "government intrusion into healthcare," while the hospital's prohibition does not intrude into health care in any way. Right?

Peter Sprigg: The idea that homosexuals are regularly denied the right to visit their partners in the hospital is one that has only one source--homosexual activists who want to change the definition of marriage. Where are the media surveys of hospital administrators to determine how many hospitals actually have such restrictive policies? I think you would find this is rare, not common.


Anonymous: President Obama signs a policy that allows each of us to designate who can visit us in the hospital and who can speak for us when we are incapacitated. Doesn't that mean we all now have MORE control, MORE personal freedom for EVERYONE?

Peter Sprigg: I'm fine with more personal freedom for everyone on this issue, and that's why I support allowing patients to designate who can make medical decisions (or visit them) through advance directives. But the idea that having the President of the United States micromanage every detail of the health care system from the White House--even ones as relatively minor as visitation--does not lead me to believe the end result will be more freedom for everyone!


Alexandria, Va.: If your organization takes a libertarian stance, why not just stay out of it?

Peter Sprigg: Why doesn't the President just stay out of it? That's our main point today.


Purcellville, Va.: Basically your position seems to be that unmarried people without blood kin can just die alone. In this Florida case, the couple had the suggested legal papers but those were not recognized by the hospital. And who has time in an emergency to grab their papers, anyway? I really think your organization could give an inch on this and realize that it doesn't have anything to do with marriage; otherwise, you're known as anti-gay, all the time, no matter what.

Peter Sprigg: I was not aware of the Florida case until today. In doing some quick research on it, I discovered that the hospital in question announced a new policy which would make sure such a situation does not occur--on April 13, two days BEFORE the President issued his memorandum. So the President's statement was unnecessary even to resolve the most dramatic illustration of the problem that anyone can point to.

However, according to the Miami Herald, the hospital changed the policy by redefining the terms "family" and "family member!" This is exactly what we fear and oppose. Families are formed by blood, marriage and adoption--period. It is not in the best interests of society to pretend otherwise.


From Today's story: Hospitals often bar visitors who are not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage, and gay rights activists say many do not respect same-sex couples' efforts to designate a partner to make medical decisions for them if they are seriously ill or injured

This quote is from today's Washington Post. Based on what you are stating, can we conclude that this information is just incorrect?

Peter Sprigg: I question the use of the word "often." What is the source for that claim? Have they surveyed hospitals on this issue? Until they do, I think they have no basis for the statement. Anecdotal evidence from activists for redefining marriage is not enough.


Washington, D.C.: Will this executive order be enforced? Can it be enforced? Or does it need a law behind it?

Peter Sprigg: Strictly speaking, last night's memorandum is merely an instruction to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "initiate appropriate rulemaking." The actual regulations are to follow from HHS.

However, the authority the President claims is based the federal health programs Medicare and Medicaid. In other words, any hospital that refuses to comply would be denied Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

_______________________ Obama extends hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners of gays (Post, April 16)


A solution in search of a problem: The gay community has plenty of genuine issues that they can focus their attention on, like gay marriage, civil unions, etc. Assuming your comment is accurate and that there is no issue here, why do you suppose that gays have taken the time to lobby President Obama so intensely that he decided to make this move?

Peter Sprigg: I think this issue has been raised because these individual stories that are told are intended to tug at people's heartstrings, generate an emotional reaction--and thereby build support for same-sex "marriage" as being the solution.

One irony of this memorandum is that it may make it harder for the advocates of same-sex "marriage" to argue that redefining marriage is the only solution to the alleged problem!


Hougton, Mich.: Mr. Sprigg -- I can hardly see how someone could deny a hospitalized person the compassionate and therapeutic benefits of a visitation by their partner.

In opposing this measure, aren't you putting your dogma before your humanity? Are you seeking to publicize your agenda? You really need to examine the question: what would Jesus do?

Peter Sprigg: Let me re-emphasize that I do NOT oppose allowing people to visit their homosexual partners in the hospital. I just think that provisions to allow that should be based on the general principal of patient self-determination, and not based on a redefintion of "family" or "marriage."

The President's memorandum actually does appeal to that principle, and is not focused only on same-sex couples. However, I don't think these are decision that require or merit White House intervention. I believe the overwhelming majority of hospitals are capable of devising compassionate visitation policies on their own (and have already done so), while the provisions for advance legal directives have always been a subject of state law, not federal.


Alabama: "Families are formed by blood, marriage and adoption--period. It is not in the best interests of society to pretend otherwise."

Your organization and its allies repeatedly state this. Would you please provide specific instances or reasons demonstrating how families formed outside of your definition are not in the best interests of society?

Thank you.

Peter Sprigg: There is an overwhelming body of social science research that shows that men and women in a lifelong marriage, and children raised by their own biological mother and father who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage, are happier, healthier, and more prosperous than people in any other living situation. Therefore, public policy should be geared toward maximizing incentives for people to form such families.


Washington, D.C.: You told Chris Matthews on Hardball that homosexual behavior should be "outlawed."

How does that belief affect your judgment on hospital visitation rights? And is it really the libertarian aspect of the issue that you are most concerned with here?

Peter Sprigg: Homosexual behavior is not going to be "outlawed" in this country, because of the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision which declared homosexual sodomy to be a constitutional right. While we thought that case was wrongly decided, neither I nor Family Research Council have spent or intend to spend any time or effort trying to overturn it--which was the mistaken impression that some people might have gotten. I regret that Chris Matthews chose to raise that non-issue as a distraction from the actual subject of our interview, which was homosexuals in the military.

I do believe that homosexual behavior is harmful to the individuals who engage in it and to society at large, and therefore it should not be treated as the basis for obtaining special rights and benefits (such as marriage).

However, what I have tried to explain here is that I do not consider hospital visitation to be a benefit of marriage or a benefit specifically of a sexual relationship. It is simply a personal concern in which the desires of the patient should be respected.


New York: I'm really annoyed at the assertion that homosexuals marrying "destroys traditional marriage as we know it." The last time I checked, the next door neighbor's marriage had ZERO effect on my own relationship. You are just unmasking yourself as anti-gay. And the other argument is always "think of the children!" Well, if you really care about the children, allow them to have married parents who love and care for them. The is no evidence that children of gay people are more likely to become gay. News flash: nearly all gay people come from straight, and oftentimes married, parents.

Peter Sprigg: It's a mistake to look at the issue of same-sex "marriage" in terms of the impact one couple's relationship has on another couple's relationship. The issue is what happens to society as a whole. The same thing could have been said a generation or two ago about the liberalization of divorce laws--"How can one couple's getting a divorce affect another couple's marriage?" But after a generation of experience it was clear that it led to more divorces, more children growing up without both parents, and society being less committed to the idea of marriage as a lifelong union. You couldn't point to one couple's divorce causing that--it was the overall social change.

By the same token, legalizing same-sex "marriage" undermine the notion that there is something uniquely important about male-female relationships (which there is, because they reproduce the human race), and it undermines the notion that children do best when raised by their own mother and father (which the social science research clearly shows they do). Cohabitation, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and single parenthood all also threaten marriage in these ways, but there is no reason to add a redefinition of marriage to this sad list.


Milwaukee, Wisc.: I understand that the FRC is opposed to homosexual marriage for religious reasons. I respect the rights of religious people to voice their views but how come the FRC isn't concerned with the 96 percent of married couples who have had premarital sex, which is forbidden by the Bible? Isn't premarital sex a bigger threat to marriage, since homosexuals only comprise 6 percent of the population. Meaning that out of every 100 people, 90 have premarital sex compared with 6 having homosexual sex.

Peter Sprigg: We are very concerned about heterosexuals having premarital sex, which is why we support abstinence-until-marriage education in the schools.

However, FRC is not opposed to same-sex "marriage" only for religious reasons. Marriage is not merely a religious institution, nor merely a civil institution. At its heart, marriage is a NATURAL institution, rooted in the order of nature itself. It exists to bring together a man and woman for the reproduction of the human race, and to keep that man and woman together to cooperate in raising to maturity the children produced by their union. That is a social purpose that is NEVER served by same-sex relationships--no matter what your religion is.


Peter Sprigg: Thanks for all your questions--great discussion. Have a good weekend.

Peter Sprigg


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