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President Obama ordered new rules that will give gays and lesbians the right to visit their partners in the hospital and make decisions about their care, a marriage benefit sometimes denied to same-sex couples. The president ordered his health secretary to issue these regulations to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid, which nearly all do.

“Gay and lesbian Americans … are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives—unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated,” President Obama stated.

He cited actions taken by a handful of states that require hospitals to allow patients to designate people outside of their immediate families for visitation privileges, and he said the order would build on those efforts. Under the order, hospitals will be required to respect advanced directives and other legal documents like powers of attorney that aim to allow people outside the immediate family to have visitation privileges. Those privileges may not be denied on the basis of sexual orientation, among other factors, the order said. It applies not only to same-sex partners but to others, such as widowers who want a friend by their sides in the hospital.

Hospitals also will be required to respect legal documents that designate same-sex partners as decision-makers for patients unable to make decisions for themselves. It is common practice for hospitals to deny visitation to non-family members.

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