The U. S. Supreme Court recently decided a case called U. S. v. Windsor,
which struck down section 3 of the DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act).
The importance of this is that the Court has stated that the definition
of marriage is up to the individual states and not the federal government.
The Court did however uphold section 2 of DOMA which states that the individual
states do not have to recognize same sex marriage which may be performed
legally in other states. What does this mean to Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania does not recognize same sex marriages. If a same sex couple
were to get married in a state which does recognize same sex marriages,
say Maryland, and return to Pennsylvania, then their marriage would not
be recognized in Pennsylvania. One key aspect for such individuals to
consider is the effect of this case on their health care planning. Would
you be treated any differently at a hospital or the emergency room because
of this case?
In Pennsylvania, the answer is that your same sex partner would not have
any authority granted under law to spouses to make medical decisions for
the other spouse or to access medical information under the HIPAA laws,
which protect one's medical information privacy. For this reason,
it is vital for same sex couples to have medical powers of attorney for
each other if they wish this protection. It enables the one you choose
to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so and prevents the
decisions from being made by a default party under the law, typically
a close family member, which may not be your wish. Such a power of attorney
would be recognized outside of Pennsylvania also and would be effective
if you are travelling or move to another state. Also, if one is not in
a relationship and wishes to appoint someone of their choosing to make
medical decisions for them, then such a power of attorney is needed also.
The best advice is that everyone should have a health care power of attorney
or directive, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation, so your
wishes are known and followed.