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California court
OKs health care discrimination against lesbian

California court
OKs health care discrimination against lesbian

A California appeals court ruled that two fertility doctors had the right to refuse to artificially inseminate a lesbian based on her marital status because it would have violated their religious beliefs. The ruling reversed a lower-court decision that physicians Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton could not use religion as a defense against a lawsuit filed by Guadalupe Benitez.

The panel found that the doctors were within their rights to base their decision on Benitez's unmarried status because discrimination based on marital status is not prohibited by state law.

Benitez, 33, sued the doctors and their small practice in Vista, Calif., in 2001, claiming their actions violated California's antidiscrimination laws. Benitez was eventually treated elsewhere and gave birth to a boy who is now 3 years old.

In her suit Benitez claims that Brody told her in 1999 that her religious beliefs prevented her from helping a homosexual conceive a child by artificial insemination but that other physicians at the practice would be able to help her.

The next year, Benitez said, she was told that both Brody and Fenton were unable to help her because they did not feel comfortable with her sexual orientation.

The doctors contend they denied treatment because Benitez and her registered domestic partner of 15 years were not married. But Benitez's attorneys said she was denied because of her sexual orientation, not her marital status.

An attorney for a gay rights group said the decision would be appealed to the California supreme court. "We fear this decision is going to worsen the confusion in the minds of the public about whether you can legally discriminate in the name of religion," said Jennifer Pizer, attorney for Lambda Legal. "The bottom line is that you should not be able to treat patients in a discriminatory way."

The case appears to be the first in the country in which a gay or lesbian patient was allowed to sue doctors over charges that treatment was denied based on sexual orientation. (AP)

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