California Governor Jerry Brown last week signed a bill to ban clinicians administering ex-gay therapy to minors, making California the first state in the country to take such a proactive stance against this dangerous practice. Now, before the ink has even had time to dry, the bill is already under threat from a conservative religious legal group.
Governor Jerry Brown Signs the Ex-Gay Therapy Ban
“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” Brown is quoted as saying in a statement to The Chronicle that was issued late last week when he signed the bill into law. The bill will go into effect January 1.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), makes it against the law for a registered clinician to prescribe unproven therapies designed to change the sexuality or potential sexuality of any minor.
The bill was heavily watered down in the state Assembly. This means the law, despite being groundbreaking and vitally important, is powerless to stop religious groups using “spiritual” reparative therapy.
The legislation also leaves the punishment for contravening this law up to the oversight of the medical community, and thus relies on officials being prepared to take action on the issue. We know that the mainstream medical community opposes reparative therapy, but it remains to be seen just how far individual medical authorities will go in reprimanding those who contravene the law.
The Liberty Counsel Goes to Court Over California’s Ex-Gay Therapy Ban
California is now facing a lawsuit over the ex-gay therapy ban by the anti-gay self-proclaiming “Christian legal group” the Liberty Counsel.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement:
The California governor and legislature are putting their own preconceived notions and political ideology ahead of children and their rights to get access to counseling that meets their needs. A number of minors who have struggled with same-sex attraction have been able to reduce or eliminate the stress and conflicts in their lives by receiving counseling of their choice which best meets their needs and religious convictions. This bill will harm children, stress families, and place counselors in a catch-22, because they will be forced to violate their licensing ethical codes …
We are filing on behalf of mental health professionals who find themselves in a catch-22. … This bill and the ethical codes of all of the licensing boards in California are on an inevitable collision course. The licenses of countless mental health professionals hang in the balance. … This law undermines parental rights. Mental health decisions should be left to the patient, the parents, and the counselors – not to the government to license one viewpoint.
However, while invoking the “religious right to freedom of conscience” has proven a viable angle in other areas, the court case may work against the Liberty Counsel.
In order to prove the bill harms “children, stress families, and place counselors in a catch-22,” they would seem to need to provide evidence that reparative therapy actually works.
And there’s the rub. There exists no peer-reviewed independent literature supporting that a permanent and significant “reorientation” is possible or even desirable when weighed against the potential harms which include provoking depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Highlighting in a court setting that anti-gay groups’ lack of evidence for their assertions proved advantageous in the Proposition 8 case, as it might here.
The Ex-Gay Therapy Ban: An Important, Imperfect Step
The importance of this legislation as a first step, despite the above concerns and issues, cannot be overstated.
LGBT rights groups have praised California’s actions, with the Human Rights Campaign saying in a statement:
We’re grateful to Governor Brown for standing with California’s children. LGBT youth will now be protected from a practice that has not only been debunked as junk science, but has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being. We commend Governor Brown for putting children first, and call on all states to take California’s lead on this issue. We will continue our fight against this kind of child abuse, which has been deemed harmful to children by all major mental health, medical, and child welfare organizations.
New Jersey is among a handful of states now flirting with adopting a similar ban.
Finally, thank you to Care2 readers who signed this petition urging Governor Brown to pass the ex-gay therapy ban! You’ve helped California take this small but important step.