A bill that would prevent under 18s being forced into so-called ex-gay therapy passed the California Senate on Wednesday.
The legislation, the first of its kind in the US, was advanced by 23 votes to 13. The bill must now be approved by the General Assembly and then signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.
Introduced by Senator Ted Lieu, (SB 1172) would limit California’s health professionals from engaging in so-called sexual orientation change efforts, sometimes known as conversion or reparative therapy, with minors.
The legislation as passed by the Senate states:
865.1. Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age, regardless of the willingness of a patient, patient’s parent, guardian, conservator, or other person to authorize such efforts.
The legislation also declares a government interest in opposing any form of change therapy, labeling such therapy unnecessary and unscientific.
The legislation covers only licensed medical professionals and so would not explicitly address religious sexual orientation change efforts, though would appear to take a strong position against such practices within the state.
“Being lesbian or gay or bisexual is not a disease or mental disorder for the same reason that being a heterosexual is not a disease or a mental disorder,” Senator Lieu said in a statement. “The medical community is unanimous in stating that homosexuality is not a medical condition.”
Indeed, the American Psychological Association, having convened a Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation to conduct an exhaustive assessment of peer-reviewed studies into change efforts, concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation have negligible results and also risk patient harm. Patients subjected to ex-gay therapy have reported depression, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm and some have even attempted suicide.
The American Psychiatric Association also published a position statement in March of 2000 stating that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder.”
The American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have all issued similar statements against sexual orientation change efforts.
SB 1172 has received broad support from a number of groups including Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Mental Health America of Northern California, Gaylesta, and Lambda Legal.
“Too many young people have taken their own lives or suffered lifelong harm after being told, falsely, by a therapist or counselor that who they are is wrong, sick or the result of personal or moral failure,” said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California Board President. “Legislative action is long overdue to end the abuse of sexual orientation change efforts and for the state to fulfill its duty to protect consumers–especially youth–from therapeutic misconduct.”
The bill’s main opposition has come from NARTH, a California organization that touts itself as a secular body that, contrary to all evidence, avows the effectiveness of change therapy. However, NARTH’s opposition arguments — mostly hinging on the idea that this bill represents a blow to parental rights because, apparently, parents should be able to subject their children to unproven sexual orientation change efforts — has so far failed to gain traction.
Dr. Robert Spitzer, the author of a 2001 study often cited by groups like NARTH to support their sexual orientation change ideas, recently issued another call to retract his study because, he said, it failed to demonstrate any evidence of actual change among participants. He also apologized to the gay community for the potential abuses the study may have allowed for.
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