Good morning my name is Janice Langbehn and I am here today with two of my 4 adopted children – David and Danielle.
As a way of background in September 1996 when President Clinton was readying himself to sign DOMA into federal law, my Partner Lisa Pond and I had already been together 7 years as a committed couple. In 1996 we had been State of WA foster parents for 4 years, taking in several children and were preparing to adopt our first child.
Why I am here today is to express the great need not only for DOMA to be stricken from our own State’s laws but more importantly at the federal level. In 1999 I was diagnosed with MS so Lisa and I had 4 adopted children by then so we did the responsible thing and did our estate planning including living wills and durable/or medical powers of attorney for each other.
Anytime I needed care here in Washington, we were fortunate to never need to show our paperwork for Lisa to be with me during hospitalizations or Emergency care.
This all changed in February 2007 when tragedy struck our family. Lisa and I along with our kids were celebrating our 18years together by going on the Rosie O’Donnell Rfamily Cruise out of Miami. Prior to the boats departure, Lisa who was only 39yrs old and very health collapsed. She was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
The kids and I were right behind the ambulance carrying lisa. We were told to go to the Trauma waiting room. Within and hour of her arrival, a Trauma social worker came out and told me I was in an “anti-gay city and state and would not know of Lisa’s condition nor see her”. He turned to leave and I demanded his fax number and said he would have our Power of Attorney. The hospital received the documents allowing me to speak and make decisions for Lisa in the event of her incapacity. However, the children and I waited and waited and as the time passed we were left alone in that waiting room distraught. Finally 2 surgeons appeared telling me she had a massive and fast bleeding aneurysm that was not survivable. I asked repeatedly to be able to see her and while the surgeons agreed to allow me to visit, the children and I continued to wait nearly 8 hours. Finally after requesting a priest for Last Rites did I see Lisa for 5 mins; however she was already in a coma and unresponsive.
After that short visit about 5hrs after her admission I knew it was critical for the kids to see their “other” mom to say goodbye and begin the grieving process but I was repeatedly told “no”. I even presented their WA state Birth Certificate with Lisa and my name on them. Yet we were continually denied access to Lisa’s side.
So for nearly 8 hours lisa lay alone in a coma and moving toward brain death with us only 20 feet away. Lisa was pronounced brain dead the next morning and per her wishes I donated her organs so that others could live.
I tell you our tragic story because while we can all rally and work to change discriminatory and anti-family laws state by state such as DOMA – change must come at the Federal Level as well. Because the discrimination that our children, lisa and myself faced should not happen to any family. Also Lisa and I believed we had done everything correct as a gay family to protect each other and our children in just such a scenario but because this happened in florida we were at the mercy of that hospital personnel.
DOMA and other laws which limit the rights of Gay and Lesbian Families – which I believe in 2003 was totaled to be 1138 rights at the Federal level alone that my family is barred from just because we are gay. Laws, policies and procedures must be changed not only because it hurts loving and committed couples such as Lisa and I but more importantly it hurts the children raised by same sex couples. Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami denied our children the opportunity to say good by to their mother and that moment in time can never be given back to them.
I urge all of you to not only write to your local representatives and senators but to raise up you voices to Congress and our new President. As a result of our Tragedy, LAMBDA legal took on our case and filed a federal suit in Florida against the hospital and several personnel – but more importantly they started a petition drive to be given to President Obama once he takes office to not forget same sex families when reforming health care and ensuring hospital visitation and decision making for families like ours.
The time has come to erase DOMA from federal Law because it ultimately is hurting the children of loving and committed couples. Please speak out and make sure all of your elected officials know that separate is not equal and to remember the children impacted by keeping discriminatory laws when they kept on the books.