California court rules doctors cannot deny treatment to gay patients on religious grounds

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of California [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Monday that gay and lesbian patients cannot be denied medical treatment because of doctors' religious beliefs. The issue came before the court in a case where a lesbian couple who were denied an artificial insemination procedure by a clinic claimed the refusal violated anti-discrimination provisions in California's Unruh Civil Rights Act [materials, PDF]. The clinic and doctors who were the defendants in the case claimed that under both the California Declaration of Rights [text] and the US Constitution [First Amendment backgrounder], their right to free exercise of religion permitted them to refuse treatment. constitutions as part of their right to exercise their religion. Disagreeing with this interpretation, the court wrote:

California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, from which defendant physicians seek religious exemption, is “a valid and neutral law of general applicability.” As relevant in this case, it requires business establishments to provide “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services” to all persons notwithstanding their sexual orientation. Accordingly, the First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt defendant physicians here from conforming their conduct to the Act’s antidiscrimination requirements even if compliance poses an incidental conflict with defendants’ religious beliefs. [citations omitted]
The court went on to say that physicians could avoid the conflict by simply refusing to practice the procedure at all or by asking another physician in their clinic to conduct the procedure. AP has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

In June, the court's ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] which overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] took effect [JURIST report] after withstanding challenges from both in-state conservative groups and out-of-state attorneys general [JURIST reports] who objected to the ruling because it also allows couples from others states to be married while in California. The ruling may still be overturned, however, as opponents have successfully petitioned [JURIST report] to place a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages on the November ballot [materials, PDF; proposition website]. 

 

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