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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 24 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 34
Nevada hospital incident shows importance of marriage equality
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Nevada hospital incident shows importance of marriage equality

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Brittney Leon checked into Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas on July 20 with complications in her pregnancy. She and her domestic partner, Terri-Ann Simonelli, both assumed that Simonelli could make any medical decisions for her.

Under Nevada's constitution, only opposite-sex couples can get married, but a 2009 law established domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Nevertheless, the hospital's admissions officer told Simonelli she would be able to make medical decisions for her partner only if she had power of attorney.

Simonelli offered to go home and retrieve their certificate of domestic partnership, which the couple keeps framed on their wall. Not good enough, the hospital staffer said. Hospital policy insisted on power of attorney.

Leon was in serious condition, and the couple, distraught over her medical problems and upset over the hospital's policy, felt they were in no position to fight about the issue.

Although the couple said they were treated well by doctors and nurses at the hospital, Leon ended up losing her baby.

Simonelli told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the doctor knew the couple and took the time to update her periodically while Leon was in surgery. There was, however, a 90-minute period when the doctor had to attend to another patient, and Simonelli was kept in the dark.

She finally asked a nurse and was told her partner was already in the recovery room. The couple questioned whether an opposite-sex spouse would have had to wait that long before finding out what happened to his or her spouse.

'If a straight couple says 'This is my husband,' no one questions it. I shouldn't have to prove who I am,' Leon said.

'I am usually a big fighter. But I was so emotionally upset. It was a very bad day for us,' Simonelli said. 'We went there thinking we had the state's backing, and then we were told we were wrong. It didn't matter that we were registered domestic partners. It should matter.'

'EQUIVALENT OF MARRIAGE'?
Nevada's domestic partnership law, like Washington's, says domestic partnership is essentially the equivalent of marriage.

'Domestic partners have the same rights, protections and benefits, and are subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses,' the law says.

It also provides that 'Domestic partners have the same right to nondiscriminatory treatment as that provided to spouses.'

But when the law goes on to enumerate specific rights and responsibilities of domestic partners, the ability to make medical decisions for each other is not mentioned. There is also no penalty specified for discriminating against same-sex domestic partners.

Same-sex couples may file a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, which will then investigate and seek some resolution of the dispute.

Commission administrator Shelley Chinchilla told the Review-Journal she knows of only one complaint filed by domestic partners accusing a business of violating the law.

Spring Valley Hospital declined to comment on the case when contacted by SGN. A hospital spokesperson reportedly hung up on a Review-Journal reporter who asked about compliance with the state's domestic partnership law.

Nevada Assemblyman Tick Segerblom said he might propose a bill next year that would put more 'teeth' in laws designed to stop discrimination against Gay and Transgender people. Segerblom suggested a 'private right of action' for those who believe they are victims of discrimination. That would allow them to sue an offending business for damages.

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