On April 15, President Obama issued a memorandum to the Secretary of Health and Human Services instructing her to prepare regulations that will protect the right of homosexual partners (and other non-family members) to visit their loved ones in the hospital.

In a series of interviews the next day, I emphasized that the Family Research Council does not have any objection to such visitation in principle, as long as it is premised on the patients personal choice rather than on a redefinition of family or marriage. However, I also pointed out that the main reason this is even a topic of discussion is because it is used as a political talking point by the advocates of same-sex marriage, who see it as a golden opportunity to tug at peoples heartstrings and generate emotional sympathy for their cause.

I further asserted my belief that the frequency with which homosexuals are barred from visiting their partners in the hospital is grossly exaggerated. As I pointed out in an online chat on the Washington Post website,

The idea that homosexuals are regularly denied the right to visit their partners in the hospital is one that has only one source--homosexual activists who want to change the definition of marriage. Where are the media surveys of hospital administrators to determine how many hospitals actually have such restrictive policies?

In the reporting on the Obama memorandum, however, many media outlets cited the case of Janice Langbehn, a lesbian who sued a Florida hospital claiming that she was denied the right to visit her partner Lisa Pond when Pond was dying from an aneurysm. Langbehns story is apparently a familiar one in the homosexual activist community, thanks in large part to a sympathetic New York Times article last year.

In fact, Langbehns story was instrumental in moving Obama to act. According to the Washington Post:

Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side. Obama called Langbehn on Thursday evening from Air Force One as he flew to Miami, White House officials said.

The New York Times story last year did report that the hospital disputes some of Langbehns charges, but media reports on the Obama memo last week, like that in the Post, did not even bother mentioning that. They were content to repeat the storyline of the homosexual activists verbatim, without even stopping to ask if there was another side.

There is, however, another side. On the website of the Miami Herald, I discovered that the hospital which Langbehn accused of mistreating her has sent its own letter to President Obama. Here is part of what the hospital said:

We would also like to take this opportunity to provide you with some clarification on the allegations being made by Janice Langbehn, whose partner was treated at Jacksons Ryder Trauma Center in 2007. From the beginning, JHS has vehemently denied that Ms. Langbehn was denied visitation due to her sexual orientation. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed Ms. Langbehns lawsuit against Jackson Memorial Hospital in September 2009.

Ms. Langbehns allegations and those made by published articles, blogs, etc., are inaccurate and have damaged the reputations and deeply hurt the feelings of the personnel in our trauma center. They have devoted their careers to all who come through our doors, from all walks of life.

JHS grants hospital visitation to all individuals equally, regardless of their relationship to the patient, as long as doing so does not interfere with the care being given to the patient or other patients in the area. With that said, our first priority when a patient is brought to our trauma center is always to stabilize the patient and save their life. As the only adult and pediatric Level 1 trauma center in Miami-Dade County to support a population of more than 2.3 million people, our facility is one of the busiest and most renowned in the nation.

The Trauma Resuscitation Unit in Ryder Trauma Center, where Lisa Pond was treated when airlifted to Jackson, is more like a large operating room with multiple beds separated by glass partitions rather than a traditional hospital floor. Sometimes, visitors are not able to see a loved one in the trauma bay as quickly as they would like or they may have to wait until the patient is moved to the ICU or to another area of the hospital that is better suited for visitation. This all depends on the circumstances of the situation, how busy the unit is at the time and the medical conditions of the patients in the unit at the time. The patients in this area are facing life-threatening injuries or illnesses and are extremely vulnerable.

The most important piece of information to consider from our side of this story is that the charge nurse on duty the night Ms. Pond was in our care and the person who made all visitation access decisions that evening is herself a lesbian with a life partner. In addition, numerous members of the medical team working in our trauma unit are openly homosexual. We can assure you that Ms. Langbehn was not treated differently because of her sexual orientation.

When homosexuals complain that they are denied the right to visit their partners in the hospital, they may give some people the impression (I suspect deliberately) that in some hospitals they are never able to visit their partners, simply because they are not legally recognized as family members. I pointed out that for ordinary patients in ordinary hospital rooms (the vast majority of hospital patients), there are few if any restrictions on visitation. You dont go through security, no one checks your IDyou just walk up to the room and visit. Some hospitals have even done away with the tradition of visiting hours, and instead allow visitors to come in at any hour of the day or night.

I did acknowledge that there might be exceptions to these liberal visitation policies, such as when a patient is in intensive care. But there was one point so obvious that I did not bother making it (until now)and that is that in situations of emergency, trauma, or intensive care, hospitals may sometimes keep away all visitors from a patient for medical reasonsnot for reasons of discrimination. If the hospitals account is accurate, that is what happened to Janice Langbehn.

Is the thought of a person dying without their loved ones at their bedside an agonizing one? Of course. But it is an agony that is probably experienced by many people, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status, every day, for one simple reasontheir beds are surrounded by doctors and nurses fighting to save their lives.