The Obama administration ordered his health secretary to issue new rules extending hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples, according to a report by The New York Times.

The new rules will affect any hospital that uses Medicaid or Medicare. Though President Obama made clear in his memorandum, announced the night of April 15, that the new rules would take a while to draft and go into effect, his order makes clear that same-sex partners should enjoy visiting privileges that are no more restrictive than those enjoyed by immediate family members. “Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindness and care of a loved one at their sides,” Obama said in the memo.

Though the new rules don't explicitly cover issues where one of the partners is hospitalized due to HIV, many of us remember a time when the same-sex partners of HIV-positive people were routinely forbidden by medical staff and family members from visiting their loved ones. This was sometimes true even when the ill person's partner was his or her legal medical power of attorney. Though such scenarios are less common, they do still occur.

Obama's memo “is a huge deal,” David Smith, vice president of policy for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Times. “Nearly every hospital in the country will now be required to provide hospital visitation rights to LGBT families. It's an enormous step. In the absence of equal marriage rights in most jurisdictions, this step provides an essential right to LGBT families for a gay person or a lesbian person to spend time with their partner in a critical situation.”