I am writing this “Holiday Season” column from a hospital in North Carolina, where my teenage son is recuperating after an emergency appendectomy.
I was flying back from Oregon to North Carolina, with a stopover in Houston, when I received a text from him reading “Am in the ER at hospital. I may have appendicitis.” By the time I arrived at the Raleigh/Durham airport that night, got home, unpacked some of my luggage and then got back in the car and went to the hospital, it was 11 p.m. I slept overnight on the sofa in his hospital room.
The one thing I learned that night was how the children’s area of the hospital is closely watched — and for good reason. I gave my driver’s license to the information personnel and they did a quick scan of my name. Because my son and I have the exact same name, there was little doubt about who I was. Then I had to have another picture taken for my paper identification tag that would finally allow me into his unit.
Then it struck me: with all the security measures that are in place to keep out those who would come upon such a unit and take a child, there are those very measures that keep those who are part of our “families,” who are not blood related or related through marriage, out of these units. While we are all aware of stories where someone has simply gone into a unit and kidnapped a child, I was suddenly aware that my partner, who has known my son for 14 years of his life, would not be able to simply go in and visit him in the hospital. Why? Because he is not related to the child through marriage, civil union or any other legal avenue. Yet, if my son’s mother were to remarry, the married step-father would have little-to-no problem in visiting my son.
There was simply no room in the inn, in the hospital, for my partner.
While I have read and heard a great deal on the subject of same-sex couples not being able to visit each other in hospitals, while “blood relatives,” even long-estranged from our significant others, get into our beloved’s hospital room carte blanche, I am aware that one of the “privileges” of marriage is being “next to kin” when someone is going into an emergency situation in a hospital. I am aware that I can go into almost any hospital room at any time as an ordained clergyperson. By contrast, my partner and I would be kept away from each other in many hospitalization scenarios, even with all our legal documentation showing that we give each other the right to visit one another in emergency hospital situations. The same holds true for non-married or civil union partnership couples with children, because they are not “next to kin” per se. There would be the need for documentary proof of relationship in many scenarios…as if we all have these documents folded up in convenient places to show others in power, in case of an emergency.
My son and my partner have a great relationship and are able to talk about most anything under the sun or moon above. I am sorry that there would be so many hurdles tossed in front of my partner simply visiting my son in a hospital, but there is no room for such a visit. This is in stark contrast with the way that many hospitals provide equal opportunities for married couples, grandparents, parents or legal guardians to visit sick children in their care. Until there are either changes to the law and regulations or the possibility of same-sex civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples in North Carolina, there is simply “no room in the inn” for our partners and this must change.