Friday, 22 August 2008

California: doctors cannot discriminate against lesbians on the basis of religion

Justice Joyce Kennard
The California Supreme Court has ruled unanimously, in a decision written by Justice Joyce Kennard, in Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group [PDF file], that doctors of the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group cannot deny medical treatment to people based on their sexual orientation. In 1999, that Group refused to provide fertility treatments to Lupita Benitez because Benitez was a lesbian in a same-sex relationship. In its historic decision, the court ruled that California law prohibited such discrimination and rejected the doctors’ argument that their religious beliefs should enable them to deny treatment based on their religious objections to serving lesbian patients.

History of the case

The trial court rejected the doctors’ defence. The doctors, unhappy with the result, appealed to the Court of Appeal. That court held that the doctors had to be given an opportunity to demonstrate that their refusal to treat Lupita Benitez was not based on her sexual orientation. Lupita Benitez then appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court said:

Do the rights of religious freedom and free speech, as guaranteed in both
the federal and the California Constitutions, exempt a medical clinic’s physicians
from complying with the California Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against
discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation? Our answer is no.

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