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Gay rights push threatens physicians' conscience freedoms

By Jonathan Imbody | August 20, 2015

Excerpted from "Gay Rights May Come at the Cost of Religious Freedom," The Atlantic July 27, 2015 - The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage at the end of June has set the country up for two new waves of discrimination claims: those made by same-sex couples and LGBT workers, and those made by religious Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. The two may seem distinct or even opposed, but they’re actually intertwined: In certain cases, extending new rights to LBGT workers will necessarily lead to religious-freedom objections, and vice versa.

In Congress, there’s at least some effort to reconcile the two sides. Democrats are pushing for legislation which would include prohibitions on discrimination in education, housing, and public accommodation, and Republicans may well sign on—if that legislation allows for religious exemptions.

In June, Michigan passed a law allowing religious adoption agencies to turn down prospective parents whose lifestyles don’t accord with their religious beliefs, including gay or unmarried couples. This was one of the religious-freedom concerns John Roberts specifically called out in his dissent to the Court’s decision in Obergefell.

The other consideration, said Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at UCLA, is healthcare-refusal laws: “In every state, there are laws that allow people to refuse to provide services in healthcare based on a religious or moral objection.” Most of these have to do with abortion, he said, but some now include provisions about assisted reproductive technologies, like artificial insemination, which could potentially have a big effect on lesbian couples who are trying to get pregnant.


Jonathan ImbodyCMA VP for Govt. Relations Jonathan Imbody: “Any health professionals who surmised that the same-sex marriage debate had nothing to do with them are in for a rude awakening. The recent same-sex marriage mandate Supreme Court ruling simply fuels a legal, political and ideological juggernaut that portends sweeping changes in society, commerce and law—and specifically, the conscience freedoms of faith-based health professionals.

“Religious freedom attorneys I work with point out that health professionals face potential conflicts in a number of areas:

  • ‘Fertility specialists will be subject to lawsuits or nondiscrimination enforcement actions if they do not assist lesbian couples to conceive.
  • ‘Similarly, OB/Gyns will be subject to lawsuits/nondiscrimination enforcement if they do not provide services to same-sex couples.
  • ‘Faith-based hospitals and medical professionals will be required to accept same-sex marriages as valid for purposes of visitation/next-of-kin/etc.
  • ‘Medical professionals will be subject to nondiscrimination laws if they persist in referring to patients by – and perhaps even treating patients – according to their true gender instead of their self-identification. This could include OBGYNs who decline a transgender or transitioning patient.
  • ‘In any of the above situations, medical professionals may also be subject to loss of licensure or ethics complaints.’

“A religious freedom attorney I work with notes, ‘It’s hard to know for sure what will happen next, but one additional area that we are seeing is the revision of ethics codes. Doctors should be on the watch for revisions to accreditation/licensing/ethics codes, etc., that would stifle their ability to live according to their beliefs about marriage and human sexuality.’”

Explain to your colleagues, your specialty college and your federal state legislators the need for and benefits of conscience freedoms. Begin by sending the Freedom2Care pre-written, editable letter to urge your U.S. legislators to pass the First Amendment Defense Act.

CMDA’s Homosexuality Ethics Statement
CMDA’s Same-Sex Marriage Public Policy Statement
Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage by Sean McDowell & John Stonestreet
Faith Steps – a new CMDA-related book on conscience freedoms and other public policy issues and how to communicate on controversial topics including conscience freedoms.

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