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Dear Obama: Go beyond gay partners' hospital rights

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
  • LZ Granderson praises Obama directive on rights for gay partners in hospitals
  • He implores Obama to consider the partners of gay and lesbian military personnel
  • "Don't ask, don't tell" makes them put military jobs in jeopardy if they visit, he says
  • Granderson: Obama should eliminate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy during this term

(CNN) -- Dear President Obama: One of things I've long admired about you is the amount of care you show toward your family, especially your wife, Michelle.

From reading about the days of you picking her up in your car with the hole in the floor to seeing the two of you smile at each other during the Inaugural Ball, I don't think Danielle Steele herself could have penned a more romantic American love story.

With each gaze in her direction, it is clear to those around that Michelle is your heart, your light, your soulmate. If she ever needed you for anything, you would be right by her side.

Thursday's memo asking the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a rule that would prevent hospitals from denying visitation privileges to gay and lesbian partners is a positive step. But keep in mind a lot of military families in this position are still unfairly isolated and punished because of "don't ask, don't tell."

Try imagining Michelle hurt and alone and you don't know where she is and are unable to get any information -- because you should not exist. Or worse, imagine Michelle never coming home again and no one knows you're the one person in the world who should be contacted. Explain why. Terrible thoughts I know, but for the families of deployed soldiers this scenario is not an uncomfortable hypothetical, it's a heart-wrenching reality.

Like hospital visitation, 'don't ask, don't tell' isn't a gay rights issue, it's a human rights issue.
--LZ Granderson

This is a little discussed side-effect of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which you repeatedly said you wanted repealed but failed to allocate the political capital to expedite the process. In your memo you said: "There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital." Although granting visitation rights regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity helps those who don't fear repercussions, "don't ask, don't tell" breeds hiding and fear among those who do.

More than 1.5 million military personnel have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. Earlier this month, two more soldiers were killed in Iraq, bringing the death total to 5,401. More than 30,000 have been injured. Have you ever wondered how many of those brave men and women sat wounded in hospitals or died without the support of their light, their Michelle?

The discussion of "don't ask, don't tell" is more than who feels comfortable sleeping in the same barracks as a gay guy. And it shouldn't be about strategizing when a demographic pawn should be moved in the partisan chess game that is Washington politics.

As you calculate the pros and cons of vigorously leading a repeal, I ask that you expand your equation to include the unjust toll this law has on the families of the men and women who voluntarily serve this country. Not just intellectualize, but allow your heart to truly empathize with the spouses and partners who do not get to hug or kiss their loved ones goodbye at the airport for what could be their last time together.

Close your eyes and feel the frustration of loved ones who recognize symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder but do not seek proper medical attention for their partner for fear of outing them. Allow your heart to feel for the children who lost a parent in a war zone but do not have access to the soldier's long-term pension to help support them in their absence because, well, the military could not know the fallen soldier's family even exists.

Like hospital visitation, don't ask, don't tell isn't a gay rights issue, it's a human rights issue. What is happening under your watch is no different from the times when black entertainers such as Gladys Knight or Otis Redding were not allowed to eat at the restaurants where they performed.

The cynic in me believes Thursday's memo is just a crumb to quiet the gay community's rumbling. The optimist in me still has the audacity to hope Washington hasn't changed you.

During your first State of the Union you suggested your job isn't to get re-elected but to do the right thing. The day before the health care reform vote, you quoted President Lincoln: "I am not bound to win but I am bound to be true." I am asking you to be true. Not just true to the words you said on the campaign trail, but true to the greater sense of right and wrong we all believed guided your decision-making.

The sense of right and wrong whenever you look into your daughters' eyes, or Michelle's. You would not compromise your ethics to their detriment. Please sir, do not make the well-being of soldiers and their families politicized and a presumed second-term issue. Dignity should not have to wait for poll results. Especially for our soldiers.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.