By Charlsie Dewey
'Voices of Pride, In the Life's Pride month episode, scheduled to air in Chicago on WTTW-11, on June 25 at 12:30 a.m., asks the question, 'Can religious belief serve as a justifiable mechanism for discrimination?'
The episode examines the case of Guadalupe Benitez v. North Coast Women's Care Medical Group, which is now before the California Supreme Court, and could serve as a national precedent as to whether doctors may refuse to treat gay people equally with other people based on religious belief.
Benitez and her partner, Joanne Clark, claim to have experienced discrimination 11 years ago when the couple set out to have children. Benitez approached the North Coast Women's Care Group, the only service provider offering the necessary fertility treatments covered by her insurance, expecting to be treated just like any other woman wanting to have a child. However, she realized very quickly in the office of Dr. Christine Brody that she was a lesbian who wanted to have a child.
When Brody learned of Benitez's sexuality, she told Benitez that if it came to intrauterine insemination, she would be unable to perform the procedure due to her beliefs. She also assured Benitez that someone else in the office would be able to do the procedure.
After failed attempts to become pregnant, intrauterine insemination did become necessary, but no doctor within the North Coast Women's Care Group would perform the procedure because of religious objections.
Clark told Windy City Times that the couple never once considered giving up their dream of starting a family and, eventually, they did have a son Gabriel, followed by twins. They also ended up in a legal battle involving religion as grounds for discrimination.
Clark had not experienced discrimination before and she commented, 'I had no idea the depths that it reaches. Personally and psychologically, it destroys you.'
As far as how the couple's life has changed specifically, Clark explained, 'I'll tell you what we do. We make sure that people understand we're gay right up front, and we watch their body language, we watch what they do. … We're more up front with who we are.'
The couple has not fully gotten over what they had to go through and is hoping to win their case so that others will not have to experience the same hurtful discrimination. Clark wants to see the gay community stand up and continue to take strides against discrimination.
Lambda Legal is representing Benitez, and Windy City Times spoke with Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, about the case.
Windy City Times: Legally, what are the important elements in this case as far as what was wrong with North Coast Women's Care Medical Group's handling of the situation?
Jennifer Pizer: North Coast offers specialty treatment for infertility as well as general OB/GYN care. The clinic's staff is required to treat all patients equally based on medical need and not treat some better and some worse based on sexual orientation or other irrelevant personal characteristics that are placed off-limits by California law, as well as medical ethics.
The defendant doctors in the case told Lupita [ Benitez ] they would not treat her the same as other patients because she is a lesbian; that was bad enough. They also misled and manipulated her by promising that other medical staff would provide the treatment she needed ( intrauterine insemination ) , and then delaying that treatment for months and months, having her undergo unnecessary and sometimes painful tests and spending needless time taking powerful fertility drugs, all to avoid doing the simple procedure they perform routinely for other patients.
WCT: If Lupita Benitez wins her case, what will the ramifications be for LGBT folks in the future considering their medical care? What about beyond the LGBT community?
JP: The California Supreme Court has focused its inquiry on whether religious beliefs can be an excuse for discriminating against lesbian and gay patients, but the civil rights law in question also prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, religion and other personal characteristics. If the doctors do have a right to discriminate as some form of protected exercise of religion, there's every reason to think that a similar religious right to discriminate would exist for those who have religious reasons for wanting to discriminate based on any of those other characteristics. Thus, the potential consequences are enormous for everyone who's vulnerable to discrimination based on others' religious views about them.
WCT: Why do you think this is an important In the Life episode for Pride Month in particular?
JP: First, from a positive direction, it shows how much lesbian and gay couples have the same aspirations to be parents and to create families as heterosexual couples have, and the ways they are seeking medical help to deal with the same medical problems that many women have irrespective of sexual orientation. Second, from a less positive perspective, Lupita and Joanne's story is about the threat posed to basic civil rights by religious conservatives who believe the rules that apply to society generally should not apply to them.
In recent years, there has been a worrisome increase in the number and wealth of the religious/political advocacy groups that are working to eviscerate civil rights protections for LGBT people. Only by increasing community education about these aggressive reactionary groups, and the terrible stakes for our pluralistic society if they continue to succeed, can we hope to build clear and strong resistence to their tactics.