California becomes first state to outlaw gay conversion therapy for children.
Two recently filed federal lawsuits challenge the constitutionality of a newly signed California law that prohibits so-called conversion or reparative therapy for minors, through which mental health professionals attempt to change the sexual orientation of their patients from homosexual to heterosexual.
Legal groups supporting the lawsuits contend
that the ban is an “unconstitutional restriction on the First Amendment, privacy and parental rights” and claim
that the ban may frustrate the ethical obligations of professionals to provide adequate help for clients who may request reparative therapy.
Following months of lobbying
efforts by gay-rights activists and religious leaders, California Governor Jerry Brown signed
the prohibition into law late last month.
The law prohibits mental health providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation of a patient under the age of eighteen. Mental health providers who break this law will be cited for unprofessional conduct and will be subject to sanctions imposed by their licensing board.
Mental health providers are defined broadly to include those ranging from psychiatrists and psychologists to registered clinical counselor trainees. Since the law only applies to licensed professionals, it does not regulate the conduct of lay people, including self-described “ex-gay” ministers. The law also does not prohibit
therapies that “do not seek to change sexual orientation.”
The law includes
a series of strongly-worded policy declarations, starting with a provision noting that “[b]eing lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming.” The law also states that California has a “compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors…against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.”
Two of the largest mental health organizations, the American Psychological Association
(APA) and the American Counseling Association (ACA), have both publicly opposed reparative therapy for homosexuality. The California law includes as support citations to the APA, the ACA, and other well-known organizations.
Other states may be soon to follow California’s lead. New Jersey Assemblyman Tim Eustace
(D) recently announced
that he will introduce legislation to ban reparative therapy for homosexuality on minors. New Jersey State Senators Raymond Lesniak
and Stephen Sweeney
are also reportedly planning
to introduce a similar bill in the state senate.
In a widely quoted statement, Geoff Kors, senior legislative and policy strategist for the National Center on Lesbian Rights
, recently said
that his organization will try to encourage legislation similar to California’s by “reaching out to all the state [gay rights] groups” and targeting states with progressive gay rights laws.
State legislators who may oppose the ban do not appear to have introduced any legislation to legalize conversion therapy, but some have voiced their disapproval publicly. Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern
(R), for example, reportedly sent a letter to her local news station arguing that California’s ban is wrong because it “violates parental rights” and because there is “no credible science proving that…a person is born homosexual and cannot change.”
The California law, which was introduced in February 2012 by State Senator Ted W. Lieu (D), was passed by the California Legislature in August. It will go into effect on January 1, 2013.