Janice Langbehn

President Obama has awarded the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal to a lesbian woman who sued a hospital that refused to allow her to see her dying partner.

Janice Langbehn’s partner Lisa Pond was taken to hospital in 2007 after suddenly collapsing from a brain aneurysm.

Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital refused to allow Langbehn, who had a medical power of attorney document, and the couple’s three children, from seeing the dying woman for eight hours because it did not recognise their relationship.

It was in part Langbehn’s plight that led Obama – who read about her story in the newspaper – to in April 2010 order all federally-funded hospitals in America to stop barring people in same-sex relationships from visiting their sick partners.

“Janice Langbehn transformed her own profound loss into a resounding call for compassion and equality. When the woman she loved, Lisa Pond, suddenly suffered a brain aneurism, Janice and her children were denied the right to stand beside her in her final moments,” a military officer told the audience before Langbehn was given the medal by Obama on Thursday.

“Determined to spare others from similar injustice, Janice spoke out to help ensure that same-sex couples can support and comfort each other through some of life’s toughest trials. The United States honours Janice Langbehn for advancing America’s promise for equality for all.”

Langbehn was one of 13 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award in the United States.

“It is a great honour to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal,” said Langbehn in a statement.

“It is my hope that my family’s loss, this medal, and the attention it brings to the discrimination our families have faced during the most difficult moments, will help ease suffering and ensure that no family has to go through what my family went through.”

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