The proponents of a domestic partner registry in Mesa are putting their work on hold as they anticipate new federal rules may broaden the hospital visitation rights of unmarried couples.
The push in Mesa was meant to kick off similar registries across the East Valley, as proponents said they felt confident they could succeed in other communities if they established a registry in conservative Mesa. The registry, also called a mutual commitment registry, was to ensure partners – including same-sex couples — could visit ailing loved ones in a hospital.
But once President Barack Obama last week ordered new federal rules that would broaden visitation rights in most medical settings, activists said their local goals appear to be happening nationally.
“At this point, my group has no intention of pushing forward,” said Denise Heap, chairwoman of the East Valley LGBTQs for Change organization, which promotes civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.
The group has been pushing for Mesa to have the third registry in Arizona, following Tucson and Phoenix. The registries were established after those cities heard complaints from same-sex couples that they had been denied hospital visits.
Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh had introduced the idea in late 2008, and the city’s Human Relations Advisory Board discussed a measure at length.
Kavanaugh said some couples were not allowed to visit despite having medical power of attorney forms filled out. Some hospitals don’t allow visits to partners unless their power of attorney forms are expanded to include visitation rights, he said.
The federal rule hasn’t been drafted yet but will likely resolve that, he said.
“We’ll have to see what the rule looks like, but the action by the president does have the potential to occupy much of the field in this area. So, there may ultimately not be a need to proceed with our measure,” Kavanaugh said.
The federal rule would likely take a year to go into effect. Kavanaugh said he may push the city to revive its efforts if the federal action gets bogged down. The City Council would have to approve the registry. The council would only consider the issue after the Human Relations Advisory Board sends a recommendation.
The registry would be based on the Phoenix and Tucson lists, which require a couple to file paperwork with the City Clerk and pay a $50 fee.
The registry triggered opposition by conservative groups in the East Valley, including United Families International. The group said it gave some legal recognition to domestic partnerships.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said he doesn’t see the need for Mesa to continue to advance the registry because of the pending federal rules. But he questioned the need before federal involvement, saying he spoke with hospitals and heard domestic partners were granted visits.
“Everybody I talked to said it’s a non-issue,” Smith said. “Maybe it was (an issue) a few years ago.”
Banner Health, with facilities across Arizona, hasn’t had problems with visitation, said Becky Shults , patient relations manager for Banner Desert Hospital in Mesa.
All Banner hospitals ask incoming patients for information about power of attorney, she said. Patients have total say over who can — or cannot — visit, she said.
Shults recommends patients draw up power of attorney documents and keep them ready in case of an emergency, so they can be accessed if the person is hospitalized and unable to communicate.
“Having those documents ahead of time, executed before you get sick, is a great thing to do,” Shults said.