SAN FRANCISCO – Doctors can’t discriminate against gays and lesbians in medical treatment, even if the procedures being sought conflict with physicians’ religious beliefs, the California Supreme Court decided Monday.
In the second gay-rights victory this year, the court said religious physicians must obey a state law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt defendant physicians here from conforming their conduct to the … antidiscrimination requirements,” Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for the court.
The decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Guadalupe Benitez, a lesbian who lives with her partner in Oceanside, a coastal city north of San Diego, and wanted to become pregnant with donated sperm.
Benitez contended that Dr. Christine Brody, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, told her that her religious views prevented her from performing an intrauterine insemination on a lesbian.
Another physician at the Vista clinic, Dr. Douglas Fenton, later told Benitez that the staff was uncomfortable helping her conceive a child and advised her to find another doctor outside the medical group, Benitez said.
The doctors denied the allegations. Brody said she would not perform the procedure on any unmarried woman, heterosexual or homosexual.
A trial court ruled for Benitez, but an appeals court overturned that decision. After the case landed in the state high court, civil libertarian groups sided with Benitez; religious groups argued that doctors were entitled to disavow treatments that conflicted with their religion.
Benitez, 36, now the mother of three, said she has been pursuing her case for 10 years.
“This isn’t just a win for me personally and for other lesbian women,” she said. “It’s a win for everyone, because anyone could be the next target if doctors are allowed to pick and choose their patients based on religious views about other groups of people.”