The Contreras Family and the Systematic Discrimination Against Queer America

In October 2014, mothers Krista and Jami Contreras took their six-day-old baby, Bay to an appointment with their Pediatrician Dr. Vesna Roi. The Michigan women stated that upon arrival at the clinic, they were greeted by a different Pediatrician, Dr. Karam, who told the couple that Dr. Roi now felt she was unable to care for Bay. Dr. Roi made it clear that after a long period of reflection, she decided that the because of her discomfort with the sexual orientation of Bay’s mothers, she would not have “been able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships” that she normally does with her patients (“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”). Luckily, the Contreras family was able to find a new pediatric clinic which was both inclusive towards parents within the LGBTQ community, and provided a high level of care to baby Bay. The problem, however, is that Dr. Roi is completely within her rights to deny her services to the new-born child, as certain U.S. legislation protects her discrimination against this couple. This is emblematic of a larger problem within the United States; that government legislation has failed to adequately advocate for the rights of same sex couples to the point where the systematic discrimination and oppression of this minority group is protected by law.

According to the American Medical Association, a doctor cannot refuse care based on the sexual orientation of their patient. They can, however, refuse to treat a person if the Doctor claims that it is incompatible with their personal, religious or moral beliefs (“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”). This condition effectively provides a loophole within the Medical Association’s non-discriminatory policy, as homophobic doctors can easily cite religious or moral reasons for not treating a gay person, thus legally denying medical treatment for queer bodies. Thankfully there were other, less exclusionary doctors in the Michigan area to care for Bay, but it raises concerns about care for queer bodies in more remote areas, where an entire community may only have access to a single doctor. In extreme situations this could mean that a queer person, or their child could be in serious danger, risking long-term injury or even death if they are denied access to immediate medical care. At this point, it violates Articles 25 (1) in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which maintains that every person has the right to adequate medical care (“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”). This blatant discrimination needs to be addressed in legislation, so that Doctors have no way to legally deny queer bodies their basic human rights.

Dana Nessel, an attorney currently working on Michigan’s same sex marriage case, was made aware of the Contreras family’s situation. Nessel explained that the problem of queer discrimination legislation goes much further than the American Medical Association. She noted that there are not currently any laws in place that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families from discrimination in any facets of life (“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”). On top of this, she mentioned a piece of legislation currently in the senate called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which she believes would allow for blatant discrimination of minority groups if a certain religion does not condone the group’s specific way of life. Since many queer lifestyles have been condemned in Holy Texts such as the Bible and Qur’an, Nessel is confident that queer bodies will be subject to further, and completely legal discrimination (“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”). NOLO, an online American legal encyclopedia has published an article on Sexual Orientation Discrimination. In the article it states “attempts to pass federal legislation that would outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in private workplaces have been unsuccessful to date” (“Sexual Orientation Discrimination: Your Rights”). Meaning that queer bodies cannot even expect to be free from discrimination in the workplace.

Another blatant example of legislative discrimination against the queer-community in the United States is the ban on same sex marriage. Although many states have repealed this law in recent years, in 13 of the 50 states it is illegal to for same sex couples to wed (“37 States with Legal Gay Marriage and 13 States with Same-Sex Marriage Bans”). Not being able to legally wed deprives same sex couples of the many benefits that result from a marriage. Tax credits, social security, employment, medical, and death benefits are just some of the amenities awarded to legally wed couples in the United States (“Marriage Rights and Benefits”). Not only are same sex couples in 13 states deprived of those benefits, but they are also deprived of a sense of official legitimacy surrounding their union. They are not afforded the same peace of mind and societal acceptance as a straight couple, a group who undoubtedly holds a cultural hegemony when it comes to relationships.

In conclusion, power structures in the United States have categorically failed same sex citizens. Both government legislation and legislation from powerful bodies, such as the American Medical Association, have failed to adequately protect queer bodies from discrimination. It is tough to not feel feelings of compassion for newborn Bay Contreras, who will see her mothers, and other queer Americans, be the target of systemic discrimination due to neglect from legislative powers.

Works Cited

“37 States with Legal Gay Marriage and 13 States with Same-Sex Marriage Bans – Gay Marriage – ProCon.org.” 37 States with Legal Gay Marriage and 13 States with Same-Sex Marriage Bans. Procon.org. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004857&gt;.

“Doctor Refuses Treatment of Same-sex Couple’s Baby.” Fox 2 News Headlines. 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/28142401/doctor-refuses-treatment-of-same-sex-couples-baby&gt;.

“Marriage Rights and Benefits | Nolo.com.” Nolo.com. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/marriage-rights-benefits-30190.html&gt;.

“Sexual Orientation Discrimination: Your Rights | Nolo.com.” Nolo.com. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/sexual-orientation-discrimination-rights-29541.html&gt;.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Declaration, Human Rights Charter, The Un and Human Rights.” UN News Center. United Nations. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/&gt;.

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4 thoughts on “The Contreras Family and the Systematic Discrimination Against Queer America

  1. Great Job Bagler902! I think you chose a really interesting topic to discuss and definitely hit a lot of important points. You mentioned the problem with same sex marriage being illegal in 13 states. Do you know the benefits that they are denied cause of this? If so why would additional problems arise from denying these benefits? This is definitely an issue where several systems of power are working together to marginalize a group of people. I also think that the issue the Contrera’s family had is a separate issue of homophobia that western society has, what do you think?
    Overall excellent job

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  2. Nice job, bagler902! You bring up a lot if interesting points about how the state has failed queer folk by allowing power structures put them down. After reading your blog, I wonder if you think that the power structures you mentioned are starting to break down? After all, same sex marriage is legal is all but 13 states; on the other hand, same sex marriage is illegal in 13 states. What do you think? Is homophobia starting to be less of a problem? Obviously it’s still a problem, but do you think that we’re on the road to a better path?

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  3. Hi Bagler902,

    The point you brought up about remote communities is interesting. When you live in the city, it’s easy to pick and choose what doctor you want and doctors can have a clear conscience when denying a patient because they know they can still have access to medical care. However, in places where doctors are scare the lack of anti discrimination laws could lead to someone dying because a doctor won’t see them. Why do you think there are no laws in place to prevent discriminiation against queer bodies? Is it because we live in a heteronormative society?

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  4. Hi bagler902,

    This was a well-written and well-researched post. As a citizen of Canada it is interesting and somewhat new to be reading about systematic discrimination in the United States. I would love to know your thoughts on Barack Obama as the first US President to set total marriage equality as a goal. Do you think he was genuine in this declaration? Has his progress been sufficient? Has the governmental system, Republican Party in particular, been working against him?

    The FOX article on which you based your post calls attention to a kind of systematic discrimination of which I was not aware. I think it is fair to say that refusal of medical treatment is fairly unknown issue, as it is not widely discussed in our media. Marriage equality, while also an important queer issue, is conversely probably the most well known. I would have liked if you had expanded on other more invisible issues; a somewhat related example would be the denial of hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples.
    On that note, what are the consequences of poor coverage of queer issues by the mainstream media? Assuming that the United States achieves total marriage equality, will people continue to fight for the queer community? Or will it be widely assumed that all of the issues have been dealt with, and that homophobia has disappeared?

    Thank you for the excellent post, and I look forward to your next one!

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