Personal Health

In Sickness and in Health: What Marriage Equality Means for Health Care Access

History was made with the June 2015 SCOTUS marriage equality ruling affirming that the Constitution grants same-sex couples equal protection and equal rights under the law, ensuring them all the privileges and responsibilities of civil marriage. This decision has far-reaching and substantial implications for these couples' lives and the lives of their children, particularly regarding health and well-being.

In the United States, marriage affords people several rights that pertain directly to wellness. A core tenet of tying the knot is that two people pledge to take care of each other, and this SCOTUS decision gives all same-sex couples the legal right to honor that promise.

Here's a breakdown of what this ruling about marriage equality means for health care access:

Inclusive Medical Insurance: Marriage is a qualifying event that allows people to add their spouse and their spouse's dependent children to their medical insurance plan. It also permits them to extend medical coverage to their spouse and dependents through Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage after a job ends. Because not having medical insurance is one of the biggest barriers to health care access, and is one of the major causes of personal bankruptcy, this is vital to the well-being of people and families across the country.

Access to Family Medical Leave: The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows Americans to take time off from work to care for an ill spouse or dependent. If that person is hospitalized, then visitation rights are still protected by this ruling, even if the child is not biologically related. This also protects a person's right to make emergency medical decisions for their partner or child, which is a major component of family care.

Rights Don't Change Across State Lines: Until last month, only some states afforded these rights to people in same-sex unions. They were denied in many others and hotly debated across the country. The SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality put that conflict to rest: all people are now afforded equal protection, including people in same-sex relationships. Same-sex civil marriages are legal and carry the full weight of law, with the same burdens and duties of any other civil marriage. Now any family, regardless of whether the parents are of the same sex, can hop into the car on one coast and drive to the other coast without their legal rights changing at each state line. Should a family member need medical care along the way, their rights to visit each other in the hospital and to make emergency medical decisions remain intact.

Hospital Visitation: The Supreme Court's ruling provides hospitals across the country with an opportunity to welcome and provide excellent care for people and their loved ones, however they come — a practice and policy Dignity Health has and will continue to implement.

Now, a same-sex couple's vow to care for each other in sickness and in health also carries with it the full authority of federal law.

Posted in Personal Health

Judy Schwartz Haley is a freelance writer and blogger. She grew up in Alaska and now makes her home in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Judy battled breast cancer when her daughter was an infant, and now she devotes much of her free time to volunteering as a state leader with the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.