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Love and Civil Unions

If you think same-sex marriage isn't worth fighting for, you've likely never had to face stonewalling and discrimination while your loved one is in the hospital.

News of the Illinois Senate approving a marriage equality bill, plus renewed talk of legalizing same-sex marriage here in New Jersey, got me thinking to just a short year ago .

My mind raced back to last winter, as Eric and I testified before our state legislators about marriage equality and the discrimination we have faced under the current civil unions act.

Eric and I tied the knot in August 2009 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. Fast-forward nearly a year to July 2010. Eric was unusually quiet one night and curled up on the bed while I watched TV in the den. He walked into the den and said that he needed me to take him to the hospital as he was in horrific pain.

We rushed to our go-to hospital (which shall remain nameless), a short four-minute drive from our house at that time. Eric was rushed into the E.R., where an amazing group of doctors and nurses treated him for what they suspected was kidney stones.

The pain was intense. I mean, really intense. Morphine would only alleviate his pain for five to ten minutes and then he would be wincing in pain once again.

The attending ER physician decided to admit Eric so they could run tests and monitor his condition. The doc encouraged me to go home and get some sleep. Additionally, he told me to call the hospital in the morning to see how Eric was faring. So, around 4 a.m., I headed home. I curled up with our kitties and fell into restless sleep.

I awakened a few hours later, roused from my sleep by two hungry cats. (Yep folks, a cat’s hunger doesn’t diminish, not even in the wake of illness.) I waited a bit, and then, around 9:00 a.m., called the hospital.

The receptionist was kind and compassionate and promptly put me through to Eric’s nurse. The nurse picked up the phone and promptly put me on hold. Twenty minutes passed before she got back on the line and then hung up on me.

Now, let me say that I’m a patient man. Incredibly patient. Hell, Eric’s sister Kathy once said I qualify for sainthood for having the patience to deal with their family. So I was patient. The nurse was likely busy, I said to myself.

I waited about 30 minutes and then called back. The receptionist recognized my voice and asked why I was calling back. She apologized when I told her that I had been disconnected. And she then transferred me to the nurse.

This time, the nurse got on the phone and snapped at me, “Who is this?”

I explained that I was Eric’s partner and that the E.R. physician had instructed me to call to find out how Eric was doing. The nurse told me that she had no intention of relaying any information about Eric because I was a man, not a woman.

I was flabbergasted. I told her that Eric and I had been in a committed relationship, at that point, for almost 15 years, and that New Jersey recognized our relationship as a civil union. She could care less and she told me so. She said that since I wasn’t a woman, she would not give me any information.

I was pissed.

“So,” I said to her. “If a woman calls you saying she’s Eric’s mother or wife, you’d give her information on his health?”

“Yes, I would,” she said.

“Seriously?” I asked. “Despite the fact that he has had nothing to do with his mother for almost 10 years?”

“Yes, I would.”

“But you won’t give me, his civil union partner, the man who has shared his life for fifteen years, any information?”

“That’s correct.”

We went in circles before she hung up on me once again. I was incensed and shared what happened with Eric’s doctor later that day. She apologized but she said she wasn’t the least bit surprised. She confided to me that it happens all the time and that hospital staff routinely disregard the rights of same-sex couples in civil unions.

I shared all of this with members of the House when we testified in January 2012. My patience was long gone. Anger overwhelmed me as I relayed what happened. I said that I hoped none of the legislators, none of the people listening, ever experienced what we faced that day — callous disregard not only for our relationship but also for the law.

After we testified, strangers, both straight and gay, came up to us to thank us for sharing our story. The media besieged us with questions. In fact, here’s a snippet of our interview with Bloomberg, where Eric speaks about why equality is important to us and to our many friends.

It is my hope that equality may finally be in reach here in New Jersey and that others will not have to face the disregard for their relationships that Eric and I encountered.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

S. Kelly February 22, 2013 at 06:20 PM
The name of the hospital is very pertinent to your story. If you went to Lourdes it would make a big difference to your story. Sorry you didn't get the information you needed at the time and hope you're both well now. I'm surprised that in this day and age they would even relay any information, to anyone, over the phone.
C.V. February 22, 2013 at 07:22 PM
why wouldn't you say the name of the hospital? i can only imagine this was Lourdes, i mean hello Catholics! Should have gone the extra 5 minutes to Cooper (though, legally, the same thing could have happened i suppose). This is not to say i don't 100% support what you are doing now to change this.
Debbie Shinn February 22, 2013 at 08:11 PM
I hope you don't hold your breath about equality here in NJ and please don't blame it all on Christie!! He is not innocent but he never supported marriage equality. Our extremely dissappointing Senate President did until he was asked to vote on it and then they all said NO!! REMEMBER?? It's election time again and here is how this is all going to fall out!! They will try and get a veto override but so sadly, won't have enough votes. Even though they promised they would months ago!! REMEMBER?? They will then claim to be supper supporters and get on the ballot this fall!! #1 - My civil rights is nothing that my neighbor should ever the right to decide to grant or deny to me, the constitution does that!! #2 - The ONLY reason the legislature want this to be on the ballot is to use our cause and fight for our civil rights is to draw democrats, to the polls hoping for votes for themselves (Steve Sweeney) & others, not you and me. On this particular issue, I feel our state, HELL, my state has behaved transparently bad and should be embarrassed. Our legislators and courts afford better respect and dignity to the silly animal laws they make up and pass around. ie: Seat Belts for dogs! SEE? I'm getting mad! Anyway, glad you guys are OK. I too am married about 11/2 yrs now, went to NY State. They we lovely toward us. SHAME ON NEW JERSEY!!!
Jerry February 22, 2013 at 08:16 PM
Robb the way to go is to have power of attorney These people do not know what Civil union means when you bring the papers in with you every time one has to go to the ER they get it Ken and me have had financial and medical power of attorney for many years even though we were also married in Mass. I totally understand what occured because this very thing happened to two dear frineds of ours only the sick one died while in the hospital The nurse barred her partner from seeing her after death and also barred her from claiming the body Our friend had to call in long estranged family members to come in and make the arrangements . This after the had been together for many more years than a lot of the other couples gay or straight that any of us knew . It was a tragedy of epic proportions that only we could understand. I have to say that if this ever happens to me...and Ken is hospitalized and I am ignored or told that I cannot be given the information I seek because I am not his "wife" . I will call ahead to the hospital and tell them to "Get the code cart out because they are going to need it for one of their employees!" , as I will dress no matter what the time and head right in to wipe the damn floor up with whatever ignorant nurse man or woman excludes me from seeing or caring for my husband ...and you can mark my words on that one cause you mayl read about me in the paper the next day but I will make sure that she or he is in critical condition the room next to Ken ....
Jessica Blanchard February 22, 2013 at 08:55 PM
The name of the hospital doesn't really matter. My family dealt with a similar situation at a hospital in Trenton, NJ. It's a sad state of affairs, and I look forward to the day when this won't even be an issue. In the meantime, shame on Christie.
Robb C. Sewell February 22, 2013 at 10:56 PM
I did not share the name of the hospital in question because I did not want to put Patch (or Eric and myself) at any kind of legal risk. That said, Eric and I were not residents of Collingswood or Camden County when this incident happened. And the fact is there are stories like this all over the state involving both Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals. To be honest, I was surprised when the doctor said to call the hospital in the morning. However, he was adamant about it. And the nurse was equally adamant that she would only willingly provide information to a woman. All of this said, we are very grateful for the many medical professionals who have treated our relationship with respect, like the ones who were in the ER that night. Thankfully, the positive experiences far outweigh the negative. I just had knee surgery in December and the folks at that surgical center treated us like any other couple -- with respect, compassion, and concern.
Angelo February 22, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Robb, I am actually very surprised by your story. One of the things that helped to convince me to move to New Jersey was that my partner and I would be protected by the law here more than in PA. Although New Jersey does not recognize same sex marriage, I was under the impression that the civil unions here came with all the same rights as marriage. I'm really disappointed to read that your union was not recognized in the hospital. Is there any legal recourse here for people who find themselves in your situation? By law, are you not supposed to be treated as a married couple? Either way, I'm really sorry you had to go through that. Nobody should ever be told that their relationship is not worthy of the same rights as others.
Linda Murphy February 22, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Thank you for sharing your story, Robb. There are so many that have no idea what goes on. That is unacceptable! I'd like to think that nurse suffered severe consequences. It's shocking to me that any individual with the compassion you'd expect of someone in the medical field would treat anyone that way. It sickens me.
Robb C. Sewell February 23, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Angelo, check out Jerry's response above about getting a power of attorney. It's a simple solution and something Eric and I are planning to do to cover ourselves. We're actually going to get it handled ASAP just in case. This was the only incident where a medical professional didn't recognize our union but we don't want to take the risk that it will happen again, especially in a life-or-death situation. And are you guys in Collingswood? I vaguely remember an Angelo saying he was moving here from Philly.
Angelo February 23, 2013 at 12:37 AM
Thanks Robb and Jerry. We'll look into getting power of attorney as well. Robb, yes I am in Collingswood and I am the same Angelo that commented on your "Moving to Collingswood: Making our Dreams Come True" article. We decided to make the move from Philly. We've been here three weeks now and are really enjoying it. I'm quickly realizing that my fears of leaving the city were unfounded... Collingswood is a great little town.
Robb C. Sewell February 23, 2013 at 01:09 AM
Welcome to Colls, Angelo! Feel free to email me at robbcsewell@gmail.com. I'd be happy to fill you in on what's happening in town and the GLBTQ scene. Maybe do dinner some night too. We just love it here!

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