Metro Weekly

Maryland State Senate approves conversion therapy ban

Measure would penalize licensed therapists who attempt to change youths' sexual orientation or gender identity

Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis

The Maryland State Senate has approved a bill prohibiting licensed therapists from subjecting minors to treatment designed to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill, SB 1028, was sponsored by Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery Co.), who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Madaleno, the sole openly gay state senator, has long advocated for a ban on so-called conversion therapy.

While the bill would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on youth under the age of 18 by a licensed therapist or counselor, it would not prevent religious clergy or others acting in a pastoral role from providing counseling to youth struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Licensed therapists acting in a professional role who engage in the practice could be punished with the loss of license, certification, or could be subject to other penalties.

The typically more conservative makeup of the Senate has resulted in the failure of pro-LGBTQ legislation in past sessions. With the Senate vote now out of the way, the bill should have a much easier path to victory in the more liberal House of Delegates, which is trying to pass an almost identical bill, introduced by Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery Co.).

If the ban passes the House, it will then go to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature into law. Despite the lack of a public statement from the governor, a spokeswoman for his office told MarylandMatters.org that Hogan supports the Senate bill. By signing the bill into law, Hogan can avoid a standoff over social issues that might be used to motivate Democrats to the polls, thereby threatening his re-election bid this November.

FreeState Justice, Maryland’s top LGBTQ legal advocacy organization, along with the Human Rights Campaign and WISE, a coalition of progressive groups, praised the Senate for its actions.

“This is a step forward for an important piece of legislation that protects LGBTQ youth from harmful and coercive practices,” FreeState Justice Executive Director Mark Procopio said in a statement. “We hope the House of Delegates will move quickly to make this law. Maryland’s LGBTQ youth deserve strong protections under state law. Prohibiting these practices moves us closer to that goal.”

“We thank the state senators who voted to protect LGBTQ youth from so-called ‘conversion therapy,'” Marty Rouse, HRC’s national field director, said in a statement. “This abusive and inhumane practice has no basis in science and is uniformly rejected by every major mental health organization in the country. We are calling on the Maryland House of Delegates to swiftly pass this bill and send it to Governor Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com