Same-Sex Marriage: A Response

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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86 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    This is one of those things that makes me see red.

    I cannot understand the mindset of the person who says “well, I don’t care, you’re not allowed in the room”. What kind of spiritual poison must someone be pumping through their veins to deny two people time together in a hospital room, of all places. Even if I thought gays were icky. Even if I thought that they were destined for Hell Itself!, I cannot understand the mindset that says “and on top of that, you can’t hold his hand while he’s freaking out.”

    That’s Stalin-level bullshit. I cannot comprehend it.Report

    • James K in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yes, where exactly do hospitals get off determining who may and may not visit a patient? I get that sometimes “no visitors at all” might be necessary, but I don’t see why a hospital should be in a position to be more discriminating than that.Report

      • George Turner in reply to James K says:

        I’m not sure why they ever made such a policy in the first place, unless it was a quick and easy way to keep really popular patients from getting swamped with too many visitors. I could see that has having been a problem, because if everybody thought visiting a patient was a proper display of respect (and more problematically a way to show the community that you care), then patients would’ve been swamped by old ladies bringing picnic baskets. Worse might have been all the potential heirs who despise each other and want to hold a “I love you most, rich dying grandpa!” contest. They could leave it up to the patient, but perhaps they realized that patients shouldn’t have to put up with the stress of offending anyone.

        Like I said, I’m not sure why they adopted the current policies, but there was probably a problem it addressed.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to James K says:

        Offhand? I’d guess it’s mostly because hospitals are busy enough places without visitors, and each additional person in a room is another complication in emergencies.

        Practically speaking, it makes a LOT of sense to keep visitors to a minimum — and I’ve noted the only places hospitals are actually very serious about it are the more emergency prone areas (ICU, wards dealing with heart issues, NICU, etc).

        Everywhere else, it’s more “don’t make a lot of noise people are sleeping” sort of deal and they’ve never really limited visitors, just visiting hours.Report

        • Shazbot5 in reply to Morat20 says:

          Yeah, there needs to be some rules about visitors. You could let everyone in with a sign-in in a lot of situations. But if someone is really sick, you probably want to allow only a select few in. Visitors often come to bring happiness, but sometimes they bring stress and more risk of infection, and hospitals want only a select few to be there.

          The rule “families only” is probably not the fairest, best way to do it. But spouses should get in automatically, of course, and gay spouses should count as spouses. Case closed. That’s all that matters here.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Shazbot5 says:

            True. And spouses for another reason entirely: The hospital absolutely NEEDS to know who has the authority to make medical decisions if the patient is incapable of doing so.Report

    • Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

      Are you talking about the temerity of the hospital guy for saying who can or cannot go in? Or are you talking about people like Vecchinone who won’t even grant that basic minimum to people?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

        I don’t know that the hospital guy has the jurisdiction he’s claiming in the first place, let alone Vecchinone’s application of that mistaken jurisdiction.Report

        • Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

          As a security measure, would you think it better if the hospital guy didn’t say that such and such a person cannot go in, but required everyone to sign in and out whoever it was? i.e. whoever went in would have to produce some picture ID which the hospital guy would verify. In that way, anyone gets to go in, but if anything happens, there is a record of who is in the room at the time of occurence and that person can be tracked down if foul play is suspected.Report

    • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well i’m glad we can agree that if the hospital or the doctors or nurses had religious objections to having a gay partner see his/her partner that shouldn’t be relevant.Report

    • Rod Engelsman in reply to Jaybird says:


    • North in reply to Jaybird says:

      You know how legalities and procedure works Jay. Also in a lot of cases there’s an unconscious or incoherent patient and a very coherent parent or family member asking for the gay partner to be shown out*. So in places where there’s no form of legal protection for same sex couples it’s the legally enforced authority versus the legally unenforced authority. I’m not defending it on a moral level (it’s abhorrent) but on a procedural level it has a certain logic. America is a litigious society after all.

      *This is especially personal for me since my husband’s biological mother strenuously disapproved of his and my relationship. We had some hair rising conversations with lawyers about the limits of our medical power of attorney documents. It was another log of animus on his and her relationship that has thawed a little in recent times. Ironically her primary grief with his partner is not that I’m a man but that I’m white. Why couldn’t he have found a nice black man to marry?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to North says:

        So it’s an issue of “we can’t just let some guy in from off the street say ‘that’s my life partner!’ because, god knows, maybe he just wants into the building to start unplugging shit”?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

          One of the things Maribou and I had to do after we got married was go back, a couple of years later, and have an interview with some guy behind a desk about how we were actually “in love” and I wasn’t engaged in some elaborate Canadian Bride Smuggling.

          The fiance visa is the easiest method to immigrate, after all. We can’t have people who aren’t stupid in love abusing it. So she and I are sitting there in metal chairs across from this guy who is trying to gauge if we are actually, for real, married or just pretend immigration married.

          Now we can make Americans who married Americans put up with that bullshit.Report

          • North in reply to Jaybird says:

            Frankly I’d be happy if we’d just let gay americans who marry gay non-americans have the privledge of putting up with what you and Maribou endured. If I wasn’t half american my husband and I would have been right royally screwed (well he’d probably be living in Canada actually so my Mother would be delighted).Report

        • Dan Miller in reply to Jaybird says:

          Given some of the weird messiness that occurs around domestic disputes, we really can’t allow a claim of “that’s my life partner” to suffice. Imagine if Jenny Sanford were in a coma and Mark Sanford wanted to visit the hospital room–that’s why legal marriage is important, and why hospitals need some clear-cut way of defining who should be allowed in and who shouldn’t.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

            But Dan, does the current system do anything about that? Absent a restraining order, he’s still her husband, right?Report

            • North in reply to Kazzy says:

              I believe they’re divorced aren’t they?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to North says:

                That may well be the case.

                I suppose my point was that Jaybird’s idea doesn’t introduce that issue. It already exists.

                If a man walks into a female patient’s room and says, “Don’t worry, I’m her husband,” will he be asked for papers?Report

              • Dan Miller in reply to Kazzy says:

                If the family claims that he’s actually her ex and that he should be removed, I’d imagine he’d have to produce the papers, and rightfully so.Report

              • dhex in reply to Dan Miller says:

                to my knowledge: absent a restraining order were they still married it’d be very difficult to bar him from the room – there’d have to be a really good reason (e.g. violent or erratic behavior at the hospital itself).

                obligatory public service announcement – this is why health care proxies are super duper important.Report

            • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

              They’re divorced and there’s a restraining order out against him.Report

        • North in reply to Jaybird says:

          In essence, yeah. Anything from as minor as they’ll lift all the toothpicks and steal the patients wallet up to they’ll murder/assault the patient. The hospital is liable for who they let in.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

            There’s a lot of crime in hospitals, from theft of property to kidnaping of newborns (rare, but, as you’d expect, taken pretty seriously); as a result, hospitals are very security-conscious these days.Report

          • Jam3s Aitch in reply to North says:

            But oddly enough, when I was in the hospital nobody checked my wife’s papers–they just took her word for it. So while I get the security/liability issue, there’s still a double-standard in place. At least until there’re a few lawsuits and/or everyone gets used enough to SSM that they just see it as M.Report

      • Murali in reply to North says:

        In hospitals in Singapore, anyone can visit a patient as long as they sign in and out when they do so and indicate who they are visiting. Visitation is not restricted to family membersReport

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      Having recently been in the hospital for an extended period during Zazzy’s delivery and recovery period, it seems to me that primary authority for hospital visitation should lie with the patient him/herself, provided the presence of guests does not interfere with the care being delivered. Our hospital allowed one “spouse or support person” to be present during labor and delivery; you could also have a birth professional (mid-wife, doula, etc.) in addition. The reason for the limitation was the complications that arose from the presence of too many people. But they seemed to give every indication that whomever the pregnant woman wanted to be that one guest would be fine with them.

      No one has a positive right to be in a hospital room. If Dennis’s partner did not want him present, for whatever reason, that should be respected. And I’d say the same about a heterosexual married couple.

      I recognize difficulties could arise if a patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to indicate their wishes. Especially if decisions need to be made on their behalf. In this case, it would seem that any legal document indicating their preferences should be treated as equal to their spoken requests in the hospital. In this case, if Dennis had signed documents indicating Daniel wanted him to be there and/or to have sole authority, that should be followed, full stop.

      If no such documents exist, I think it would be wise for the policy to establish a gender/sexual orientation neutral hierarchy. Each one could do so in accordance with their own philosophy and values, but it would have to be applied universally and without discrimination. So if you have language in their related to a married partner or husband or wife and the person in question can provide any documentation to that effect, to testify to the fact that they were living in a mutually agreed upon relationship of such structure, it should be respected, regardless of whether it meets all requirements for legal recognition.

      But that’s just my crazy, liberal, family hating ideas.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        I had assumed that laws restricting visitors applied only when it was hard to determine the patient’s wishes. If it’s not, then the fact that there’s a restrictive procedure at all–and independent of whether it’s enforced invidiously against gay couples–truly is a bad thing (absent other considerations of which I’m ignorant).Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          I think that’s correct. Kazzy’s example of a pregnant woman is atypical; relatively few patients in a hospital are perfectly healthy and have been planning their stay for months.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Likely the case. In which case, I’d defer to any signed document articulating the patient’s wishes and, absent then, fallback to a hierarchy. If we give precedence to lift partners, it shouldn’t matter what their gender, sexual orientation, or legal status is. If you can appropriately document that you have been sharing a life together, it’d qualify in my eyes. Evidence of the sort of ceremony that Dennis discusses here would suffice.

            But, again, I hate families.Report

    • Matty in reply to Jaybird says:

      My mother worked in a hospice, they had a very simple procedure. When you go in you specify who you want to visit you. One lady apparently had the family dog brought in, though I don’t know how they dealt with the hygiene issues there. Certainly there was no suggestion you had to fit into a legal box to be allowed through the door.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    Well crap, man. I had a gay marriage post that was going to go up this week and this blew that out of the water. Back to the drawing board…

    (Seriously, great post, and I cosign what Jaybird said.)Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    It’s entirely irrelevant to your point, which is well-taken. But I’m curious: did you get any static when you presented yourself as the patient’s husband at the hospital? And while I’m sure your in-laws backed you up, did they have to vouch for you?

    Also, I hope congratulations are in order for Minnesota tomorrow.Report

  4. greginak says:

    This isn’t a substantive point, but great pic of you two.Report

  5. Rod Engelsman says:

    So do you have plans to make it all legal now?

    If so you’ll be like my wife and me. For logistical reasons that aren’t important here, we initially got legally married by a JP and then had a regular church wedding about six months later. So we legitimately (at least sort of, depending on how you look at it) have two distinct anniversary dates. Two dates to accidentally forget and get in trouble over. Two dates to celebrate. Two dates to confuse relatives.Report

    • Boegiboe in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      When Jason and I started dating, we were entering a long-distance relationship. Our first face-to-face date was Oct 29 (anniversary #1). Later, Jason came out to visit me and go see the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon. We spent many hours in a car together and loved every minute of it. We went camping and I enjoyed it (this will be one of Jason’s miracles should he become sainted later on). Our last camping evening on March 24, we held each other by the campfire and promised to love each other and see to the other’s welfare forever (Anniversary #2).

      We moved in together on July 29 (Anniversary #3). All three of these dates are reasonable candidates for The Anniversary for a couple who thought they would never be able to have a for-reals wedding, so we picked October 29. After a very few years, though, Canada allowed us to get married on July 18 (Anniversary #4). So now that’s our O-fishal Anniversary, and this year will be the tenth of those; still, later this year will be the 15th of the Oct 29ths, and it’s nice to remember that, too.

      Ah well, who’s counting? Advance congratulations on the win today!Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      My boyfriend’s brother is marrying his girlfriend this December. It’ll be two years to the day since their first date. Pretty sure that fewer dates to remember was one of the reasons they chose that day.Report

  6. North says:

    I am delighted that my state (fist bumps Dennis) is bringing SSM in. Last night, however, I did discover the downside of this. My husband was speaking with my Mum on the phone (Mothers Day natch) and she asked if we’d be re-doing our marriage here in the states. I, of course, had hoped that we could just say our vows do the paperwork and move on with life but I saw the unholy light of marital nuptial lust ignite in my beloved’s eyes (he was a total groomzilla when we got married in Canada) and quailed in horror on the couch. I hope I’m not being prescient but I feel the hot baleful breath of wedding hoopla on the back of my neck.Report

  7. Jam3s Aitch says:

    Amen, brother. Go Minnesota. Maybe in a few years we in Michigan can catch up with you.Report

    • Barry in reply to Jam3s Aitch says:

      “Amen, brother. Go Minnesota. Maybe in a few years we in Michigan can catch up with you.”

      No – it’ll take the rest of the decade at least to de-Michissippi-ize the state.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    Fantastic piece, Dennis. And not just because I agree with it! I think your connection with your personal situation is fascinating, and I wish you and Daniel luck as you enjoy the rights and privileges that us heterosexuals have for so long.

    Along this same topic, this morning I listened to the Intelligence Squared debate on the future of the GOP which Tim wrote about recently. At one point, the panelists were challenged to rectify stated conservative goals of allowing people to live free of the government telling them what to do with their social agenda. Naturally, the conversation turned towards gay marriage. The side arguing against the motion (which was that the GOP needed to seize the center or die) made an argument that was in part based on promoting certain moral values.

    Which, as you note above with regards to Vecchione, tells me that the issue is not one about traditional marriage, families, or anything else that is often trotted out. It is about gays, plain and simple. If you view homosexuality as immoral, such that it should be legislated against (and I would consider prohibitions on gay marriage to be legislation targeted at homosexuals and homosexuality), then your issue is with gay people and how they live their lives. And, as you note, continuing to do so in an increasingly gay friendly society is political suicide.Report

    • Dave in reply to Kazzy says:

      If you view homosexuality as immoral, such that it should be legislated against (and I would consider prohibitions on gay marriage to be legislation targeted at homosexuals and homosexuality), then your issue is with gay people and how they live their lives.

      When states passed bans on civil unions and domestic partnerships in addition to same sex marriage, I’m sure it was all about marriage and nothing whatsoever about gays.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Dave says:

        It was totally about protecting marriage. But to be absolutely sure, they had to include things that provided all of the same rights as marriage, things that provided some of the same rights as marriage, and things that had any of the same letters as “marriage”.Report

  9. Chris says:

    Dennis, I really enjoyed this, thank you for it.Report

  10. Sam says:

    Kudos on the wonderful picture.

    Also, I can’t help but second (or third, or fourth, or whatever we’re at now) the observation that opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with marriage; it has to do with opposition to homosexuality. To wantto punish certain people during life’s already punishing moments is a cruelty all its own.Report

  11. Change the date and the state from the beginning of the post, and it’s my story, too. Also the bits about relatively mild health scares and surgeries.

    What a wonderful post. What a wonderful reason to post it.

    As we make our plans for Wedding 2: Now with Rights! in the near future, I am delighted that we will be joined by more and more people state by state whose relationships are finally getting the protection and respect they deserve.Report