The California Supreme Court ruled that medical providers who deny care to gays and lesbians because of religious objections arent exempt from a state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Guadalupe Benitez, a lesbian patient, sued North Coast Womens Care Medical Group and two of its physicians in 2001 after they said their Christian beliefs precluded them from performing her intrauterine insemination. Before the case made it to trial, the parties sparred over whether the physicians should be allowed to cite their First Amendment freedom of speech and religion as a defense, and the question was appealed to the states high court. The physicians, Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton, have argued that they refused the procedure because Benitez was unmarried, a status not protected by the California anti-discrimination law, and theyll be free to assert that defense at trial, according to the opinion.
The California Medical Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the two physicians but later withdrew the brief amid a backlash from the gay and lesbian community, issuing a statement reaffirming the associations opposition to discrimination and claiming its legal position had been misinterpreted. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Permanente Medical Group and Southern California Permanente Medical Group submitted a brief in support of Benitez, arguing that physicians should be allowed to refuse a procedure only if the decision is based on a medically relevant characteristicfor example, a physician whose beliefs conflict with a request to withhold life-sustaining treatment should be free to transfer the patient. -- by Gregg Blesch