Are Civil Unions Good Enough?
In June 2008, they registered their domestic partnership. “It’s very comforting to make a commitment where you know someone wants to be with you for eternity,” Patrick said Tuesday.
And even more comforting if everyone else knows what a “domestic partnership” means, too. They were told it would convey legal protections under state law roughly equivalent to those of spouses. But gatekeepers actually get to define the term. In a moment of crisis, earth-shaking decisions can depend on what the gatekeepers know.
Or think they know.
Last week, a nurse in Oregon Health & Science University’s intensive care unit shut the gate on Patrick. The nurse said he couldn’t go into the intensive care unit to be with Luis, even though Luis at that moment was not expected to live.
Patrick took Luis to OHSU, and not only was he admitted to intensive care, Luis had to be placed on a ventilator. On Tuesday, April 14, things became very, very dicey. Luis was out of it. It was just at that moment that a nurse refused to let Patrick back into Luis’s room. “We shouldn’t have you in the room as his friend,” the nurse told Patrick. “Do you know how I reach his next of kin?”
“I’m his registered domestic partner,” Patrick told her. “Same as husband and wife.” But the nurse was insistent that only a family member could fill out the forms and make the decisions that needed to be made for Luis.
Nevertheless, the fact that it was OHSU makes what happened even more shocking. If a nurse at one of the most progressive institutions in our state is confused about what a domestic partnership means, what does that say about the likelihood of confusion at other hospitals?
And what does it say about the rough equivalence of domestic partnership and marriage?
We know what one conveys. Among other things, instant access into an ICU.
The other one, at a time when a relationship matters most, and life is most fragile, can crumble into a piece of paper no one really understands. It can lock the door.
Mistakes happen, but if the term “legally registered domestic partners” doesn’t get the point across, why then should separate but supposedly equal “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” be the most we should hope to attain? We’re being asked to settle for bread crumbs while heterosexual marriages are entitled to the entire loaf. W’e're being asked to deny ourselves the full range of federal benefits granted married couples in exchange for state benefits that simply pale in comparsion.
It may be a far cry from what I used to believe, but my current stance demands equal treatment under the law. Nothing more, nothing less is acceptable to me as an American.