Metro Weekly

South Carolina Republicans seeking to overturn city of Columbia’s ban on conversion therapy

Conservative lawmakers claim the ordinance infringes upon parental rights and violates practitioners' First Amendment rights.

South Carolina State Sen. Josh Kimbrell – Photo: Facebook.

South Carolina Senate Republicans have balked at an ordinance passed by the Columbia City Council earlier this month that bans the practice of conversion therapy on minors, vowing to introduce their own legislation to overturn the ban.

The City Council approved the ordinance on a narrow 4-3 vote on June 15, joining 20 states and several dozen local governments across the United States that have barred the practice of attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ-identifying youth. Those licensed therapists and counselors found to be in violation of the ordinance will be fined $500. 

Columbia is the first city in South Carolina to pass a ban on conversion therapy on minors. But Republicans in the state legislature have claimed the ordinance violates the civil rights of practitioners, especially faith-based counselors, who may engage in conversion therapy outside of their regular practice, in accordance with their religious beliefs, and fear that they will be forced to ultimately forfeit their license.

“This is a response to oppression,” Sen. Josh Kimbrell (R-Spartanburg), the sponsor of the bill to overturn the ordinance and allow conversion therapy to continue, told a Medical Affairs subcommittee on June 21. “This is not an attack on anybody, this is defending an attack on people for what they believe. The South Carolina Senate did not fire the first shot here.”

The subcommittee delayed action on Kimbrell’s bill, but the measure has the support of chairman Shane Martin (R-Pauline), who has promised to hold additional meetings this summer to consider the legislation, according to the Post and Courier.

Kimbrell previously asked Attorney General Alan Wilson in May to intervene and block the Columbia City Council from passing the proposed ordinance ahead of the June 15 vote. He and his fellow South Carolina Senate Republicans have cast the ordinance as an infringement on the First Amendment rights of therapists, patients who wish to rid themselves of “same-sex attraction” or gender dysphoria, and the rights of parents who wish to change their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It is not constitutional for a city to insert itself in trying to prescribe what can and cannot be practiced in the medical field,” Kimbrell said. “It’s already a pretty breathtaking overreach on the part of the city to try and even ban a category of therapy.”

He said the legislature must step in to prevent licensed therapists and counselors from being “forced to choose between their principles or a paycheck.”

See also: North Dakota approves rule barring social workers from being subjected to conversion therapy

Many of the arguments employed by supporters of the bill echo those made by North Carolina lawmakers in 2016 after the city of Charlotte passed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance that allowed transgender people to access restrooms consistent with their gender identity. As a result, North Carolina passed the controversial HB 2 law, or “bathroom bill” restricting that ability. The law’s passage led to an enormous economic and social backlash against the Tar Heel State for interfering with what some critics saw as a local issue.

Critics of the South Carolina bill say Republicans are overreacting and intentionally misrepresenting what the ordinance does, simply because of their opposition to acknowledging that being LGBTQ is a valid identity.

Columbia Councilwoman Tamieka Isaac Devine said the ordinance is intended to protect those subjected to conversion therapy from harm, and that she is more concerned with its impact on recipients, rather than practitioners.

Most major medical and mental health organizations have condemned conversion therapy as not only ineffective in achieving what it purports to do — change a person’s LGBTQ identity — but harms those subjected to it, leading to increased risk of depression, isolation, and suicidal ideation.

Columbia Councilman Howard Duvall added that the ordinance does not mention religion, and would not restrict any pastor from having conversations with their congregants that align with their religious beliefs on homosexuality, reports The Associated Press.

“Most of the pastors in South Carolina are not licensed practitioners,” Duvall said. “The practice of conversion therapy has been shown to be a terrible practice on young adults.”

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