'Regardless of motive, antigay discrimination causes real harm to real people, and it can be very expensive.'
(SAN DIEGO)--An Oceanside lesbian whose doctors denied her infertility treatment based on her sexual orientation has reached a settlement with her former physicians in her historic lawsuit against them.
In a joint statement ending eight years of litigation, Guadalupe 'Lupita' Benítez and her former doctors at North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group said "the parties have reached a mutually satisfactory settlement of the litigation for an undisclosed sum of money. Guadalupe Benitez and her spouse Joanne Clark initiated the lawsuit because they felt that the defendants treated Ms. Benitez differently due to her sexual orientation. The defendants are sincerely sorry that Ms. Benitez and Ms. Clark have felt this way, and have never meant to treat Ms. Benitez with disrespect. Defendants want all of their patients, including those who are lesbian and gay, to feel welcome and accepted in their medical practice, and are committed to treating all of their patients with equal dignity and respect in the context of the highest quality of medical care."
The case began in 1999, when Benítez was referred for infertility care to North Coast Women's Care Medical Group, which had an exclusive contract with her insurance plan. After eleven months of preparatory treatments, including medication and unnecessary surgery, her doctors finally admitted they would not perform donor insemination for her because she is a lesbian. The doctors claimed a right to opt out of California’s civil rights law because they hold fundamentalist Christian views and they object to treating a lesbian patient as they treat others. Benítez sued, and the case made its way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled last year that Benitez was entitled to be treated like other patients with her same health problem, and that constitutional protections for religious liberty do not excuse unlawful discrimination.
"I didn’t look for this fight; my doctors forced it on me," said Benítez, now a mother of three. "We felt helpless, humiliated and trapped, and it’s been a long, hard fight to get to this point. But we know we've made a difference in the law that will help people in California and, hopefully, across the country. We are very proud of that."
"The statement issued by North Coast is an extremely encouraging sign of progress," said Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director Jennifer C. Pizer, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. "It shows a journey that our whole society is taking together, away from intolerance and towards inclusion. Ten years ago, Lupita's doctors wouldn't recognize her commitment to her life partner Joanne – now, they acknowledge Joanne as Lupita's spouse. We've seen religion used time and time again to justify discrimination based on race, gender, religious difference, and now sexual orientation. But those who would treat some people differently than others need to know that, regardless of motive, antigay discrimination causes real harm to real people, and it can be very expensive. Lupita and Joanne's kids can be proud of their moms, and thanks to this settlement, can all pursue whatever education and opportunities they choose."