Justices reject attempt to create exception to California non-discrimination law

(San Francisco, CA, August 18, 2008)—Today, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, declaring that the physicians of the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group cannot deny medical treatment to individuals based on their sexual orientation. In 1999, North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group refused to provide fertility treatments to Guadalupe Benitez because Benitez is a lesbian in a same-sex relationship. In its historic decision, the court ruled today that California law prohibits such discrimination and rejected the doctors’ argument that their religious beliefs should enable them to deny treatment based on an otherwise legally protected characteristic. Jennifer C. Pizer of Lambda Legal argued the case before the California Supreme Court on May 28, 2008. The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed an amicus brief along with medical, civil rights, and community based organizations, in support of Benitez’s claim.

“The Court’s ruling today sends a clear message that all health care consumers must be treated fairly and equally and that doctors cannot pick and choose when to provide medical treatment based on a person’s sexual orientation or any other irrelevant characteristic,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who are amici in this case. “Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are afraid to seek out medical care because they are fearful of being treated badly by doctors and other health care providers. Today’s decision strongly affirms that California will not tolerate harmful discrimination in the health care arena.”

In 1999, Guadalupe “Lupita” Benitez was refused fertility treatment by the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group because of her sexual orientation. The trial court rejected the doctors’ claim that they should be exempt from California’s anti-discrimination statute because they have religious objections to serving lesbian patients. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the doctors must be given an opportunity to demonstrate that their refusal to treat Benitez was not based her sexual orientation. Benitez appealed the decision to the California Supreme Court, which issued its unanimous decision, authored by Justice Joyce Kennard, today.

The case is Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.


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