Metro Weekly

Proposed bill in Colorado would ban conversion therapy

Bill is expected to pass the House but could stall in state senate due to partisan divide on the issue

Photo: Colorado State Capitol. Credit: Justin A. Wilcox/flickr.
Photo: Colorado State Capitol. Credit: Justin A. Wilcox/flickr.

The Colorado House of Representatives is expected to debate a bill that would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy by licensed physicians or mental health practitioners on people under the age of 18. The measure was approved by a House committee on a party-line vote and now heads to the floor for a vote of the full House.

The bill, which is similar in scope to measures successfully passed in four other states and the District of Columbia, would subject a health professional who engages in the practice to disciplinary action by the appropriate licensing board. But the penalties or disciplinary action would not apply to those who provide “sexual orientation-neutral” counseling to youth who are struggling with or examining their sexual orientation or gender identity, or to ministers or other religious leaders who may be licensed as mental health practitioners but who are only acting in the scope of their religious duties.

If passed, the bill would go into effect 90 days after the end of this year’s legislative session. Democrats, who have typically been more supportive of passing prohibitions on using conversion therapy on minors, control the House by a narrow 34-31 margin. But Republicans control the state Senate, 18-17, meaning the bill must gain crossover support before it could make its way to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) for his signature into law. If Republicans remain united in opposition — or if some Democrats buck their party’s stance on the issue — the bill will be killed for the remainder of this session.

Republicans showed their intent to fight the bill through their line of questioning at last week’s committee hearing, led by Rep. Kathleen Conti (R-Littleton), who compared being gay to suffering from alcoholism, The Guardian reports. Conti repeatedly asked mental health professionals testifying on the bill how they would react to a hypothetical situation involving a young person who experiences same-sex attraction but does not want to be homosexual.

Social conservatives, particularly those who defend the merits of conversion therapy, have argued — both in Colorado and in other states — that prohibiting the therapy will only endanger youth questioning their identity by effectively tying the hands of the mental health professionals that the youth and their parents seek out for assistance.

But Democrats countered that the practice of conversion therapy is harmful to minors and its contention that the therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation is not supported by major mental health organizations.

“There are therapists and mental health professionals licensed by the state of Colorado who are harming children,” openly gay State Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D-Denver) told The Guardian. “They are still trying to convert people to be a person they are not. Why should we condemn an individual to a lifetime of guilt and shame?”

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