With the flick of Gov. Jerry Brown’s pen, California is poised to become the first state in the nation to outlaw gay ”conversion” and ”reparative” therapy for minors.
Both houses of the state Legislature approved a historic bill late last month that would prohibit children younger than 18 from undergoing ”sexual orientation change efforts” at the hands of licensed therapists who intend to ”cure” them of their homosexuality.
The state Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, approved a bill 52-22 on Aug. 28. The state Senate concurred with the lower chamber’s version of the bill, voting 22-12 along party lines to send the bill to Brown’s desk for final approval.
While Republicans argued that conversion therapy should be something decided by medical boards and raised concerns that the bill infringes on the rights of parents to choose what is in the best interests of their children, opponents said conversion therapy amounted to abuse.
The original sponsor of the bill, Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu, described reparative therapy as ”junk science,” stating, ”The entire house of medicine has rejected this phony and sham therapy.”
”The American Psychiatric Association says it poses great risk to individuals, including feelings of guilt, self-hatred, shame. Some people commit suicide having gone through this,” Lieu told the Senate, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
John Pérez, the first out gay speaker of the California Assembly, said the bill would protect children from activists who ”put their lives at risk.”
Noting suicide rates among LGBT youth, Pérez said the Legislature has been clear in the past where it stands on abuse.
”It is inappropriate for anybody, even parents, to subject children to dehumanizing activity,” Pérez said, adding, ”This, in my opinion, is an abusive practice in the guise of therapy.”
The bill comes four months after 80-year-old psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer retracted a controversial 2001 study that stated gay people who are sufficiently motivated can change their sexual orientation. Spitzer also issued an apology to his former patients and the LGBT community.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, praised the Legislature’s actions, stating, ”The time is long overdue for the Legislature to take action to stop the severe harms being inflicted on young people and their families by these dangerous practices.”
Kendell added that ”gay conversion therapy” has largely been discredited by the medical community.
Nevertheless, opponents characterized the bill as erecting barriers for gay youth who want such counseling.
In an email sent to the Los Angels Times, Christopher Rosik, a therapist for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, said there was no scientific basis for banning the dubious therapy.
”As is plainly evident, should SB 1172 become law, licensed therapists in California who would otherwise be willing to assist minor clients in modifying their unwanted same-sex attractions and behaviors will be seriously jeopardizing their professional livelihoods,” Rosik wrote.
Therapists who do practice therapy that attempts to turn gay youth straight could lose their licenses.
Despite the historic nature of the bill, it is limited in scope. Indeed, the law would only affect licensed therapists who administer ex-gay therapy. Religious groups and unlicensed ministers would not be affected by the ban.
Brown has not yet indicated whether he will sign the bill into law. A spokesperson for Brown told Reuters the governor would not comment on pending legislation, although most suspect the Democratic governor will approve the bill.
In an Aug. 28 letter, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin encouraged Brown to support the law.
”It is time to safeguard the most vulnerable among us by ending the abusive practice of subjecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth to damaging attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender expression,” Griffin wrote. ”Research has shown that far from being beneficial or even neutral, these efforts have harmful effects on the participants.”
Griffin added that Brown’s support ”would send a strong message to LGBT youth everywhere that their lives are valuable and they are perfect just the way they are.”