Same-Sex Marriages and Healthcare Treatment Decisions
Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America issued a major decision in Obergfell, et. al. v. Hodges, et. al., holding that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all states. Based on the provisions of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Court recognized the validity of same-sex marriages for all legal purposes. The effects of this decision will be felt across all areas of day to day life, and affect most legal conceptions we deal with today, including estate laws, taxes, family law and eventually, adoption standards. Among these, this decision will certainly affect the rights of same-sex married couples in the healthcare area, such as: hospital access, medical decision-making authority, health insurance, and others. To date, healthcare providers have been adamant to allow the intervention of same-sex spouses in the healthcare decisions affecting their partners. Hospitals, for example, have refused to allow same-sex spouses from expressing their opinions in patient care decisions because they have not been considered “real family”. Some went as far as preventing same-sex spouses from visiting their bed-ridden couples in ICU’s scenarios, let alone making right-to-die decisions. In one case, a woman from one state allowing same- sex marriage collapsed while on vacation in a state which did not recognize them. Although her spouse had documentation of their marriage relationship and held a power of attorney, hospital officials told her she wasn’t considered a family member under state law. The woman spent hours talking with hospital personnel in an effort to visit her spouse’s bedside. Although she eventually prevailed, her spouse’s condition had already deteriorated and unfortunately died. After Obergfell, healthcare providers will be bound to recognize equal benefits and rights to same- sex spouses, as they recognize them for opposite-sex spouses of their patients.
The Supreme Court decision, however, recognized the 1st Amendment Religious Freedom “expressions” with regards to performing marriages, if any given religious doctrine preempts the religious celebration of same-sex marriages. Thus, the question remains as to the impact the 1st Amendment exemption will have on religious institutions with regards to accepting the validity of same-sex marriages. The possibility that these institutions refuse to recognize these rights will remain as a source of controversy, and might result in additional debate. Note, however, that religious entities are bound by state law. In sum, for all legal matters, states will have to follow the federal mandate and adopt immediate measures, to not only make feasible the celebration of same-sex marriages within the state (or territory), but to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other states. We will continue to monitor these developments and keep our clients informed of any issues arising in relation thereto.
This document has been prepared for information purposes only and is not intended as, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have any questions or comments about the matters discussed in this notice, wish to obtain more information related thereto, or about its possible effect(s) on policy or operational matters, please contact us.