California doctors can’t refuse treatment to gays on religious grounds, court rules

California doctors can’t refuse treatment to gays on religious grounds, court rules

SAN FRANCISCO — — Doctors may not discriminate against gays and lesbians in medical treatment, even if the procedures being sought conflict with physicians’ religious beliefs, the California Supreme Court decided today.

In the second, major gay-rights victory this year, the state high court said religious physicians must obey a state law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

“The 1st 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 T. Benitez, an Oceanside lesbian who lives with her partner 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 in Vista, told her that her religious views prevented her from performing an intrauterine insemination on a lesbian.
Another physician at the 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.

Justice Marvin Baxter, in a separate concurring opinion, said doctors can avoid liability by referring patients who want procedures that conflict with their religion to other physicians in the practice.