Several years ago, while Mr. Hare was being treated for a heart attack, his cardiologist noticed his wedding ring and offered to bring his wife in from the waiting room. When he explained that he was married to a man, the cardiologist broke hospital rules to allow his partner, Mr. Ball, a chaplain at a different hospital, to visit him.
“The reality is that it’s still up to interpretation,” Mr. Ball said. “How they’re going to respond depends on what nurse is in charge and what their take is.”
Josh Thomas, 58, battled administrators at a Cincinnati hospital when his partner of eight years, Jack Thomas Dawson, was being treated for severe vasculitis, an inflammatory disease that led to his death three years ago. Even though he had the necessary legal documents, Mr. Thomas said, hospital workers refused to keep him informed of Mr. Dawson’s condition. Mr. Thomas, who at the time was the editor of a gay newspaper, said he was finally given access to his partner’s medical information after threatening to hold a news conference in front of the hospital.
“We had all of the paperwork that any gay couple could have in the State of Ohio,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re not family.’ ”
John Berry, 59, an artist in Seattle, had exchanged rings with his partner of 10 months and the two were planning a New Hampshire wedding when the partner suffered a stroke. The couple had not completed their mutual health care proxies, and Mr. Berry was banned from further visits after he and a doctor clashed over treatment. Later, the patient’s father took over his care and relocated him to another state. Mr. Berry hasn’t seen his partner for two years.
“Everybody knew we were a couple, even the grandmother,” he said. “Had we been able to have his voice expressed in the hospital, none of this would be happening right now.”
Even in states that recognize domestic partnerships, the fear of being denied access to a loved one in a medical emergency is always there, said Helen Mendoza, 46, a documentary filmmaker in South Pasadena, Calif., who married her partner of 17 years in 2008, when the state still allowed same marriage.
“As we age and encounter health problems, it’s that extra concern,” said Ms. Mendoza, who has two children with her partner, Pam Privett. “Do I have my papers in order? Will the family structure be honored by a hospital or nursing home? It’s a real and present concern that we have in the back of our heads all the time. It weighs heavy.”