Voices of 'Swingtown'

Swingtown, CBS Evening News series
As part of our "Swingtown" series, CBS News asked voters in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley – an area that's proven to be an accurate predictor of how America votes in presidential elections for 20 years – to discuss the election-year issues that most concern them.

Liz Bradbury, 46, has been with her partner Trish Sullivan for 16 years. The two women are founding board members and the Lehigh Valley coordinators of the Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance. The following is a personal essay by Liz illustrating why she believes same-sex marriage ought to be the law of the land.

My life partner of 16 years, Trish was in a serious accident in early April. She was crossing a sidewalk going into a pharmacy when a small kid on a speeding bike hit her. She seems to have spun around and fallen, hitting her head on a concrete step when she landed. She was knocked unconscious for several minutes and did not come to until after a crowd of people, including some who were administering first aid, gathered around her.

When she came to, she was able (amazingly) to fish her cell phone out of her pocket, get me on the phone, say a few words and give the phone to another person who vaguely told me Trish was hurt and that an ambulance had been called. I jumped in our other car and was at the pharmacy in 60 seconds. It's nearby.

When I ran up to her, she could speak but she was lying in a pool of blood as wide as a double bed. She was also vomiting uncontrollably, which is common with head wounds. The paramedics wanted to strap her on a backboard, but she was choking on vomit. I was trying to help her lean to the side but they were telling me she could die from internal skull fracture bleeding and not to worry about her throwing up (of course people die from aspirating on puke, too, and the choking was really scaring her).

The ambulance took her to the trauma care unit at the hospital. I
followed. When I got to the ER waiting room, the desk person kept saying Trish wasn't there and they had no record of her. Other than that she wouldn't tell me or do anything. Finally I yelled, "I HAVE TO KNOW HOW SHE IS RIGHT NOW. PLEASE!!!" They asked me who I was to her and I said very loudly that I was her spouse.

After another 15 minutes they took me back to see Trish in the ER. She was awake but still throwing up. She was also covered in blood. Over the next seven hours, they did a lot of tests and several friends came to the hospital to be with us.

The hospital found that Trish had no neck injury or internal bleeding in her brain, but the internal swelling from her concussion was serious. They insisted she stay in the hospital overnight. They sewed and stapled her head wound, which had been to the bone.

A nurse asked me if I would fill out Trish's papers. I wrote that I would be the family member to make medical decisions if Trish could not do so. I filled in that my relationship to her was "spouse."

When the nurse looked at the form, she said skeptically, "Well, do you have a Medical Power of Attorney?" I answered, "Yes, I do, and I have it right here in my wallet, with a copy of her living will." Trish and I never go anywhere without those documents. The nurse was incredulous that I had it with me. I explained, "When you cannot be legally married you must always carry all your legal documents with you."

I think one of the reasons they let me stay in Trish's room all night was that I had that form with me. They told me it was against the rules, but they let me stay anyway. I did not want to leave her because the doctor told me the reason she must stay overnight at the hospital was that "something could possibly happen due to the swelling and then she could die." He used those exact words.

During the night, a nurse came into the room just two times. But I was there every minute, watching her breathing as she slept. The next day, they let Trish go home, but she was dizzy and in bed for several days. She's fine now, except for headaches, which the doctor says will go on for a few more weeks.

Even though Trish and I have a Vermont Civil Union we receive no rights from it here in Pennsylvania. I am not legally married to Trish, because Pennsylvania does not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriage. Even though I had the power of attorney, the hospital could have told me to leave anytime, and I know that many longtime same-sex partners are disallowed visitation or decision-making for their partners. Recently the partner of a dying man was kept from his partner's bedside in Virginia even though the men had registered as domestic partners in their home state of California.

All night, as I watched Trish sleep in the hospital, I was gripped not only with the fear that she may die, but with the fear that at any minute some intolerant hospital bureaucrat would appear and make me leave her side.

It is interesting that in the current arguments against same-sex marriage, no one suggests that what gays and lesbians want is some kind of special right. What we want is merely the same rights as any other legally married couple has to protect and take responsibility for their family. It does not come with civil union, because civil union is not portable from state to state. Nor does civil union grant federal marriage rights, like Social Security.

We need legal marriage for full protection of our families, just like everybody else.

By Liz Bradbury