Metro Weekly

New Hampshire Senate votes to ban conversion therapy

Bill now heads to conference, where House and Senate lawmakers will try to reconcile subtle differences between bills

New Hampshire State Capitol – Photo: Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia.

The New Hampshire State Senate has passed a bill that would ban therapy attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors who identify as LGBTQ, reports U.S. News & World Report.

The bill is identical to a version passed last year by the chamber that was subsequently killed by the House in January. The House later passed a slightly different version, meaning that the differences between the bills have to be reconciled in order for the bill to be signed by Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who supports the legislation.

Much like its neighbor, Maine, New Hampshire’s upper chamber had an intense debate over what a ban on conversion therapy would look like, including how it is defined. Supporters of the bill echoed arguments made in other states, noting that the scientific consensus says that it is nearly impossible to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity at will.

“This practice is a backward, barbaric practice aimed to scare the gay away,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn (D-Whitefield) said during debate. “We need to call it what it is.”

The sticking point for Republicans who run the State Senate was based around an amendment to the bill that would have exempted “talk therapy or religious counseling that provides acceptance, support, and understanding” from the definition of conversion therapy. The amendment eventually passed by a vote of 14-10.

“What we’re trying to prevent is when an individual or counselor would really push somebody against their will by imposing a viewpoint,” Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) argued. He also maintained that counselors should be able to provide counseling for minors struggling with their sexuality without being worried of losing their license or being disciplined by the state or their profession’s licensing board.

But opponents say that licensing boards already have the authority to penalize and reprimand therapists or counselors who act unethically or in a way that might harm their patients. As such, they say, the bill is unnecessary.

Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren) claimed that the bill was discriminatory because it didn’t prevent instances where heterosexual children might be coerced by a therapist to change their orientation. 

“I don’t see anything in this bill that prohibits encouraging a conversion to a confused child toward lesbian, gay, LGBT lifestyle,” he said. “This is all one-sided.”

The Human Rights Campaign, which has been supporting bans on conversion therapy in various states, praised the Senate’s work, but urged lawmakers from both chambers to iron out the differences between their bills in order to get a ban to Sununu’s desk as soon as possible. Thus far, 11 states have banned the practice, with Maryland and Hawaii expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. 

“No child should be put through the dangerous and inhumane practice of conversion therapy,” HRC Legislative Counsel Xavier Persad said in a statement. “This abusive practice has no basis in science and is ​uniformly rejected by every major mental health ​organization in the country.”

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

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