The FOX Detroit article, “Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”, recounts how the daughter of the Contreras, a married lesbian couple, was denied treatment by a paediatrician in Michigan due to the incompatibility of their sexuality with the doctor’s religious beliefs (My Fox Detroit). A discussion of this story and its implications proves to illuminate the systemic, structural and intersecting forms of discrimination that continue to exist in the United States, and around the world.
Cultural logics have historically constructed the idea of homosexuality as abnormal. The idea of the ‘standard story’ has been constructed as exclusively heterosexual. As a result, societal expectations of sexuality are strictly heteronormative. The doctor’s discriminative and unequal treatment of the Contreras because of their sexual orientation is an example of the way that cultural logics of heteronormativity create systemic oppression.
Systemic forms of oppression are legitimized through the implementation of structures. Structural homophobic and racial oppressions have been in existence for centuries. Consider, for example, anti-miscegenation laws, which enforced racial segregation in most states until 1967 (Encyclopedia of Gender and Society). Another example is the illegality of same-sex marriage, which was only recently legalized in some states, and remains illegal in others. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Michigan, although political activists are pushing for change (Freedom to Marry). However, a potential setback is currently being issued as Michigan is now in the process of passing the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”: an act that will serve to increase the structural allowance of homophobic discrimination. The official document states that it is “a bill to limit governmental action that substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion”, including “an act or refusal to act, that is substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not compelled by or central to a system of religious belief” (Michigan Legislature). Although religious freedom is indeed a good thing, if this bill passes, the type of discrimination faced by the Contreras will be not only legally allowed, but also supported by the state. The Act states that the religious motivation does not have to be central to a religious belief system. This vague description opens opportunity for legal discrimination based on biblical passages that forbid, for instance, divorce or eating pork. It’s ridiculous to think that one would be legally supported in refusing to treat someone because the their dietary preferences do not align with the doctors’ religious beliefs. The probability that this Act will be used for these reasons is likely very low. This is because the act of eating pork, or getting a divorce is normalized within society, whereas cultural and societal systems have constructed homosexuality as abnormal. The title of religious freedom acts as a façade to hide the homophobic oppressive features of the Act.
Systemic and structural forms of discrimination and oppression are not limited to white lesbian women. An intersectional analysis of the news article provides a deeper understanding of how forms of oppression intersect, and how popular culture presents and contributes to forms of oppression. Consider how the story might have been different if the identities of the people involved were altered. For instance, suppose the parents were a same-sex male couple: would the female doctor have felt more compelled to treat the child, despite her beliefs, due to the power structures that allow men a higher status in society? If the doctor were male, would oppression be intensified because the couple defies traditional hegemonic masculinities? These types of questions draw on the issues of misogyny and traditional binary concepts of gender, which are both enforced through systemic and structural means.
The topic of race may not seem relevant to this discussion, because whiteness is often seen as an unmarked category. However, by considering the factor that race plays in intersecting oppression, crucial questions arise that need to be addressed. What if the couple were black lesbians? Considering cultural notions of white supremacy, would the story have received so much media attention? Would it have caused so much outrage among the majority population? A discussion of this situation would analyze homophobic oppression through a feminist and anti-racist lens. My analysis is limited due to space constraints, but further exploration into these questions would provide a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
What is the answer to solving these systemic, structural, and intersecting forms of oppression? Laverne Cox, a transgender public speaker, offers the idea that the answer is love (Keppler Speakers). As Cornel West beautifully puts it, “justice is what love looks like in public”. Cox explains how she has a lot of love for the people who oppress her, because she recognizes that they also suffer from forms of oppression themselves (Keppler Speakers). If we all learn to possess an accepting and loving attitude, like that of Cox’s, we will be off to a good start to lessening oppression and achieving justice.
“Anti-Miscegenation Laws.” Encyclopedia of Gender and Society. Ed. Jodi O’Brien. Vol.
2. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2009. 37. Print.
“Doctor Refuses Treatment of Same-sex Couple’s Baby.” My Fox Detroit. 18 Feb. 2015. Web.
“HOUSE BILL No. 5958.” Michigan Legislature. 4 Dec. 2014
Keppler Speakers. “Laverne Cox on Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Colour. Online video clip. Web.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
Amptoons.com. 1 Jan. 1988. Web.
“Michigan | Freedom to Marry.” Freedom to Marry. Web.