ACLU and NCLR Urge Hospital To Adopt Policies Respecting Same-Sex Relationships

(San Francisco, CA, June 15, 2009)—After a lesbian was barred from visiting her partner and giving advice about her treatment at a Fresno hospital, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sent a letter to the hospital today urging that it adopt policy changes respecting same-sex relationships.

“We just couldn’t believe this was happening to us. This was the nightmare that we hoped we’d never have to live through,” said Teresa Rowe, who grew up in Clovis, California, but now lives in the Bay Area with her partner of four years, Kristin Orbin. “Unfortunately, because Kristin suffers from epilepsy, trips to the hospital are pretty common for us, which is why we filled out the legal paper work to make sure I would be able to be with her and make emergency decisions about her care. But the hospital wouldn’t let me see Kristen and ignored my advice about her treatment. They ended up giving her the exact medication I repeatedly asked them not to give her.”

On May 29, 2009, Rowe and Orbin attended the “Meet in the Middle” rally in support of marriage for same-sex couples in Fresno. After the couple completed a 14-mile march in 90 degree heat, Orbin, who suffers from epilepsy, collapsed in a seizure. The couple experienced hostility from the ambulance driver, but Rowe was ultimately allowed to accompany Orbin to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. However, when the couple got the hospital, the driver would not allow Rowe to accompany Orbin into the emergency room even though Orbin had been in and out of consciousness, and Rowe was familiar with her medical history and care.

Rowe repeatedly asked hospital employees to allow her to see Orbin and talk to a physician about her care but was refused. She volunteered to have Orbin’s legal paperwork naming Rowe as her health care agent faxed to the hospital but was told that it wouldn’t do any good. When she asked that she at least be allowed to pass along the message that Orbin not be given the drug Ativan, she was told the message would be conveyed. If the message was given to those treating Orbin, it was ignored because Orbin was given the drug, which she didn’t need and which causes her unnecessary pain. Meanwhile, when she was awake, Orbin was also asking to be allowed to see Rowe. Although they were both told that no visitors were allowed in the area where Orbin was being treated, other patients were receiving guests. After being separated for several hours, Orbin finally saw her doctor. She complained to him, and Rowe was eventually allowed to be with her.

“Until the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, Kristen and Teresa were planning to get married. In this climate, hospitals must be especially diligent to protect same-sex couples from discrimination,” said Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “As these events so painfully demonstrate, no matter what hoops same-sex couples jump through to protect their relationships, these kinds of horrible things will continue to happen as long as couples are denied the recognition and respect that only comes with marriage.”

The letter sent by the ACLU and NCLR charges that it was a violation of state law for the hospital to discriminate against the couple based on their sexual orientation, as well as to refuse to recognize Rowe’s legal authority, which was authorized by Orbin’s advance health care directive.

The letter also notes that hospitals must post and follow a patient’s bill of rights that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and grants patients the ability to designate visitors of their choosing and to decide who is able to make emergency decision about their care. The letter urges Community Medical Centers immediately to affirm their commitment to inclusive and sensitive medical care for LGBTQ patients, and to take a number of steps to carry out that commitment.

“Discrimination in healthcare settings is still far too common for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Jason Schneider, MD, President of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). “No one is served when partners are barred from visitation and kept from participating in conversations about their loved one’s care. It’s bad for doctors who are kept from potentially life threatening information, it’s bad for partners who are left waiting hopelessly in the waiting rooms and it’s especially traumatic for patients who need the love and support that only their partners can provide to help them through health care emergencies.”

A copy of the letter, which gives the hospital until June 22nd to respond, is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/discrim/39854res20090615.html.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.


The American Civil Liberties Union is America’s foremost advocate of individual rights. It fights discrimination and moves public opinion on LGBTQ rights through the courts, legislatures and public education.


The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association works to ensure equality in healthcare for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and healthcare providers.