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Love and Civil Unions

If you think same-sex marriage isn't worth fighting for, you've likely never had to face stonewalling and discrimination while your loved one is in the hospital.

News of the Illinois Senate approving a marriage equality bill, plus renewed talk of legalizing same-sex marriage here in New Jersey, got me thinking to just a short year ago .

My mind raced back to last winter, as Eric and I testified before our state legislators about marriage equality and the discrimination we have faced under the current civil unions act.

Eric and I tied the knot in August 2009 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. Fast-forward nearly a year to July 2010. Eric was unusually quiet one night and curled up on the bed while I watched TV in the den. He walked into the den and said that he needed me to take him to the hospital as he was in horrific pain.

We rushed to our go-to hospital (which shall remain nameless), a short four-minute drive from our house at that time. Eric was rushed into the E.R., where an amazing group of doctors and nurses treated him for what they suspected was kidney stones.

The pain was intense. I mean, really intense. Morphine would only alleviate his pain for five to ten minutes and then he would be wincing in pain once again.

The attending ER physician decided to admit Eric so they could run tests and monitor his condition. The doc encouraged me to go home and get some sleep. Additionally, he told me to call the hospital in the morning to see how Eric was faring. So, around 4 a.m., I headed home. I curled up with our kitties and fell into restless sleep.

I awakened a few hours later, roused from my sleep by two hungry cats. (Yep folks, a cat’s hunger doesn’t diminish, not even in the wake of illness.) I waited a bit, and then, around 9:00 a.m., called the hospital.

The receptionist was kind and compassionate and promptly put me through to Eric’s nurse. The nurse picked up the phone and promptly put me on hold. Twenty minutes passed before she got back on the line and then hung up on me.

Now, let me say that I’m a patient man. Incredibly patient. Hell, Eric’s sister Kathy once said I qualify for sainthood for having the patience to deal with their family. So I was patient. The nurse was likely busy, I said to myself.

I waited about 30 minutes and then called back. The receptionist recognized my voice and asked why I was calling back. She apologized when I told her that I had been disconnected. And she then transferred me to the nurse.

This time, the nurse got on the phone and snapped at me, “Who is this?”

I explained that I was Eric’s partner and that the E.R. physician had instructed me to call to find out how Eric was doing. The nurse told me that she had no intention of relaying any information about Eric because I was a man, not a woman.

I was flabbergasted. I told her that Eric and I had been in a committed relationship, at that point, for almost 15 years, and that New Jersey recognized our relationship as a civil union. She could care less and she told me so. She said that since I wasn’t a woman, she would not give me any information.

I was pissed.

“So,” I said to her. “If a woman calls you saying she’s Eric’s mother or wife, you’d give her information on his health?”

“Yes, I would,” she said.

“Seriously?” I asked. “Despite the fact that he has had nothing to do with his mother for almost 10 years?”

“Yes, I would.”

“But you won’t give me, his civil union partner, the man who has shared his life for fifteen years, any information?”

“That’s correct.”

We went in circles before she hung up on me once again. I was incensed and shared what happened with Eric’s doctor later that day. She apologized but she said she wasn’t the least bit surprised. She confided to me that it happens all the time and that hospital staff routinely disregard the rights of same-sex couples in civil unions.

I shared all of this with members of the House when we testified in January 2012. My patience was long gone. Anger overwhelmed me as I relayed what happened. I said that I hoped none of the legislators, none of the people listening, ever experienced what we faced that day — callous disregard not only for our relationship but also for the law.

After we testified, strangers, both straight and gay, came up to us to thank us for sharing our story. The media besieged us with questions. In fact, here’s a snippet of our interview with Bloomberg, where Eric speaks about why equality is important to us and to our many friends.

It is my hope that equality may finally be in reach here in New Jersey and that others will not have to face the disregard for their relationships that Eric and I encountered.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Angelo February 22, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Robb, I am actually very surprised by your story. One of the things that helped to convince me to move to New Jersey was that my partner and I would be protected by the law here more than in PA. Although New Jersey does not recognize same sex marriage, I was under the impression that the civil unions here came with all the same rights as marriage. I'm really disappointed to read that your union was not recognized in the hospital. Is there any legal recourse here for people who find themselves in your situation? By law, are you not supposed to be treated as a married couple? Either way, I'm really sorry you had to go through that. Nobody should ever be told that their relationship is not worthy of the same rights as others.
Linda Murphy February 22, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Thank you for sharing your story, Robb. There are so many that have no idea what goes on. That is unacceptable! I'd like to think that nurse suffered severe consequences. It's shocking to me that any individual with the compassion you'd expect of someone in the medical field would treat anyone that way. It sickens me.
Robb C. Sewell February 23, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Angelo, check out Jerry's response above about getting a power of attorney. It's a simple solution and something Eric and I are planning to do to cover ourselves. We're actually going to get it handled ASAP just in case. This was the only incident where a medical professional didn't recognize our union but we don't want to take the risk that it will happen again, especially in a life-or-death situation. And are you guys in Collingswood? I vaguely remember an Angelo saying he was moving here from Philly.
Angelo February 23, 2013 at 12:37 AM
Thanks Robb and Jerry. We'll look into getting power of attorney as well. Robb, yes I am in Collingswood and I am the same Angelo that commented on your "Moving to Collingswood: Making our Dreams Come True" article. We decided to make the move from Philly. We've been here three weeks now and are really enjoying it. I'm quickly realizing that my fears of leaving the city were unfounded... Collingswood is a great little town.
Robb C. Sewell February 23, 2013 at 01:09 AM
Welcome to Colls, Angelo! Feel free to email me at robbcsewell@gmail.com. I'd be happy to fill you in on what's happening in town and the GLBTQ scene. Maybe do dinner some night too. We just love it here!

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