Justice Joyce Kennard
A state Supreme Court today ruled that constitutional freedom of religion does not permit doctors to refuse services to homosexual clients, even when those services would violate doctors’ moral and religious convictions.
In a unanimous decision, the California State Supreme Court ruled against two Christian doctors at a San Diego-area fertility clinic who refused to provide a medical procedure for artificial insemination to a lesbian couple.
According to court documents, the doctors claimed their religious convictions prohibited them from using intrauterine insemination (IUI) on any unmarried woman, regardless of sexual orientation.
The court, however, agreed with the lesbian couple that Dr. Douglas Fenton and Dr. Christine Brody had refused the treatment because of the lesbian couple’s homosexuality and ruled that in doing so, the doctors violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Some lauded the decision as a victory for civil rights, while others lamented it as a loss of basic constitutional freedoms.
Justice Joyce Kennard, who wrote the court’s decision, said the Unruh Civil Rights Act “furthers California’s compelling interest in ensuring full and equal access to medical treatment irrespective of sexual orientation.”
But Karen England, executive director for Capitol Resource Institute, a
California family policy advocacy group, said in a statement, “The
California Supreme Court’s decision proves that these activist judges
are willing to deny our First Amendment religious freedom in order to
create rights for homosexuals.”
Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association, stated, “This case was never about discrimination against patients on the basis of sexual choices; it was about discrimination against health-care professionals on the basis of their sincerely held ethical standards.”
“Physicians of course must treat all patients with compassion and respect, regardless of the belief systems or sexual norms of the patients,” Stevens said. “But tolerance is a two-way street: we must also respect the right of health-care professionals to make decisions based on ethical standards. … Even the American Medical Association officially affirms that ‘neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally held moral principles.'”
The Pacific Justice Institute, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the doctors, said in a statement, “Today, California’s highest court unanimously ruled that the state’s civil rights laws offer virtually no exceptions for people of faith.”
The court’s ruling essentially agreed with the PJI assessment, stating, “A
religious objector has no federal constitutional right to an exemption from a neutral and valid law of general applicability on the ground that compliance with
that law is contrary to the objector’s religious beliefs” (italics in the original).
The ruling has some groups worrying that California will now use its civil rights laws to override the moral convictions of religious people across the state.
“It’s implications appear to be far-reaching,” said PJI. “For instance, the ruling probably means that, regardless of their beliefs, everyone in the state’s wedding industry must service gay weddings, California family law attorneys must handle gay adoptions and same-sex divorces, and so on.”
England added, “If homosexual marriage remains legal, the courts will soon start mandating homosexual marriage ceremonies in all churches.”
Dr. Stevens said, “This decision reaches beyond the medical profession. Taking away the First Amendment rights of health-care professionals puts at risk the rights of every working American.”
According to court documents, in 1999, after several unsuccessful attempts at self-insemination, Guadalupe Benitez was diagnosed with an ovarian syndrome that would likely require her to get the help of fertility specialists to get pregnant.
Guadalupe Benitez, her son Gabriel, Joanne Clarke
Benitez and her lesbian partner, Joanne Clarke, were referred to the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group so Benitez could receive fertility treatment. There, Dr. Brody, an obstetrician and gynecologist, provided professional care and fertility medication but informed Benitez that religious beliefs would preclude her from performing an IUI.
After basic medical care failed to enable Benitez to conceive, she was later referred to another clinic, which her insurance wouldn’t cover. There, an IUI was also unsuccessful, but Benitez eventually sought in vitro fertilization and was able to bear children.
Today, reports KNSD-TV of San Diego, Benitez has a son and twin daughters, but she sued the North Coast clinic and its two Christian doctors who refused to perform her IUI.
A trial court in San Diego originally dismissed the case in 2000, but it was appealed to the California Supreme Court.
Several organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs on both sides.
The American Civil Rights Union, the Islamic Medical Association of North America and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations filed in favor of the Christian doctors, reports KNSD, while the Pacific Justice Institute and other organizations joined as well.
Against the doctors stood the American Civil Liberties Union, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the National Health Law Program and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
KNSD reports that the California Medical Association originally supported the Christian doctors but reversed their support “after receiving a barrage of criticism” from homosexual activists.
In the court’s decision, Justice Joyce Kennard wrote that religious beliefs do not excuse doctors from the state’s discrimination law, which “imposes on business establishments certain antidiscrimination obligations.”
At the time of the case, California’s Unruh Civil Right Act read, “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race,
color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition are
entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or
services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”
Court documents affirmed that before 1999, California’s reviewing courts had, in a variety of contexts, described the Act as also prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination.
The court then ruled that the state’s compelling interest to prevent discrimination against homosexuals represented a “neutral and valid law of general applicability” and thus does not allow doctors to exempt themselves for religious reasons.
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