Metro Weekly

Maine House of Representatives passes conversion therapy ban amid heated debate

House Speaker forced to stop debate several times to tell lawmakers not to impugn each other's motives

Maine State House – Photo: Albany NY, via Wikimedia.

Maine lawmakers had one of their most contentious legislative sessions in recent memory as they debated, and eventually approved, a bill banning the practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth.

Throughout the course of the debate on LD 912, House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) had to stop debate and remind lawmakers not to impugn each others’ motives. Several members gave impassioned speeches, with supporters and opponents of the bill equally fervent in standing their ground, according to the Bangor Daily News

At one point, Gideon event stopped debate and put the chamber into recess after Rep. Roger Reed (R-Carmel) read an email suggesting that being gay is immoral and “unnatural,” which led to pro-LGBTQ legislators shouting him down. Gideon asked members to take the opportunity to “cool down.”

The bill, which passed the House 76-68, would outlaw attempts by licensed therapists or mental health practitioners to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Those found guilty of engaging in such practices would be disciplined and could potentially have their license or certification revoked.

Openly gay Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), a graduate of the Catholic University of America and the bill’s sponsor, told a story of how an administrator from his college told him “one day, I hope you’ll see beyond your gay identity and take in what life has to offer you.” The administrator also recommended that Fecteau read a book called Beyond Gay, which claims that people can change their sexual orientation through prayer and stronger devotion to God. Fecteau said the exchange made him contemplate suicide.

“I know there are young people who are far more vulnerable than I was back then,” Fecteau said. “I want to protect them from the harm that would come from a trusted professional telling them, one way or another, that they are broken and, that the core truth of who they are is wrong and even disgusting.”

But opponents argued that parents should have the right to do what they believe is in the best interests of their children.

“This legislation would take away rights from parents who should be decision makers in terms of their children,” Rep. Susan Austin (R-Gray) said during debate. “Parents have a constitutional right to make decisions about raising their children.”

Unfortunately, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled state Senate — and could result in another intense debate when it’s debated in the upper chamber. Even if it passes the Senate, Gov. Paul LePage (R) could veto the bill, effectively killing it for the rest of the year — and given the close margin of victory in the House, it is unlikely lawmakers would have enough votes to override a veto.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have statewide laws or regulations in place to protect youth from conversion therapy. Similar laws are in the process of being passed in both Maryland and Hawaii, as well as several municipalities or counties in places where state legislatures have failed to act. 

The Human Rights Campaign urged the Senate to take up and pass the bill as soon as possible.

“No child should be subjected to this dangerous practice with life-threatening consequences for countless LGBTQ youth,” HRC Legislative Counsel Xavier Persad said in a statement. “For the sake of LGBTQ youth across the state, it’s essential that fair-minded voices speak out now and call on their state senators to pass this crucially important legislation.”

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