The below post is written by Joanna Greenberg, GLAAD's National News Associate.
Last night Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin, the Democratic and Republican vice-presidential nominees, met in their first and only debate before the election.
One of the questions posed to the candidates asked them about their views on benefits for gay and lesbian couples.
Moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS’s The NewsHour began by asking Sen. Biden if he supported granting benefits to same-sex couples.
Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.
The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted—same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That’s only fair.
It’s what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.”
Asked the same question, Gov. Palin replied:
Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that’s sometimes where those steps lead.
But I also want to clarify, if there’s any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don’t agree with me on this issue.
But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.
But I will tell Americans straight up that I don’t support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.
But I’m being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.
Sen. Biden highlighted the Obama campaign’s commitment to ensuring equal protections for same-sex couples, while stressing the fact that they do not support extending marriage to gay and lesbian couples:
No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.
The bottom line though is, and I’m glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that’s the case, we really don’t have a difference.
When asked if she agreed with Sen. Biden’s description her beliefs, Palin re-iterated that she does not support same-sex marriage:
Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.
One component of protections for same-sex couples that both candidates agreed on was the necessity for couples to be able to visit one another in the hospital. This is an issue that we here at GLAAD have been extensively involved with, working closely to help tell the stories of two women who were denied hospital visitation when their partners were dying.
Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong both agree that marriage protections for same-sex couples are necessary to prevent any more couples from going through the heart wrenching experiences they did when their partners were hospitalized.
Janice Langbehn’s story was chronicled in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She and her partner of 20 years, Lisa Pond, were set to depart on a cruise from Miami with their 4 children in 2007 when Lisa suffered a major brain aneurysm and collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital, where, as the Chronicle describes:
Administrators refused to let Langbehn into the Pond's hospital room. A social worker told them they were in an "anti-gay city and state."
GLAAD worked with Janice to help her share her family’s story, and Janice wrote about their experience in the Advocate. Janice described the precautions she and Lisa had taken, expecting to be protected in a situation like the one they found themselves in:
We took every precaution, including signing advanced directives and durable powers of attorney. We tucked them away in our files in case my condition should worsen, but being denied access to my partner in the hospital? This was backward—this should not be happening.
Their legal documents did not help Janice and her children when they found themselves in the hospital, unable to see Lisa as she died.
Charlene Strong faced a similar struggle when her partner of 10 years, Kate Fleming, was trapped in the couple’s Seattle home during a flood in 2006. Fleming was rushed to the hospital and eventually died. GLAAD worked closely with Charlene as she shared her story with the media. She also penned a piece for the Advocate describing the struggle she faced at the hospital due to the lack of legal recognition of her and Kate’s partnership:
A social worker prevented me from entering the emergency room, telling me that Washington State did not recognize same-sex partners as next of kin. Kate and I had yet to procure all the legal documents to establish our medical authority for each other; therefore, as if I were a stranger, I had to get the permission of one of Kate's family members to be near her and to make decisions for her care.
Charlene also made a documentary about her experience, “For My Wife.” She shared her story with the Washington State legislature and helped ensure passage of the state’s Domestic Partnership Registration Bill.
The tragic stories of Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong highlight the need to ensure that couples are able to visit one another in the hospital. Both Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin expressed their support for hospital visitation, but as Janice Langbehn found out, even with legal measures in place, she was turned away at the emergency room door.
The media needs to push both the Obama and McCain campaigns to clarify further how they would ensure protections for committed gay and lesbian couples under their respective administrations, especially in light of their acknowledgement that they do not support marriage for same-sex couples.