State’s Ban on Conversion Therapy Does Not Violate Free Speech
The 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on August 29 that the state’s ban on conversion or reparative therapy that aims at turning gay minors straight does not violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment. This is a precedent for California and prohibits health practitioners from offering psychotherapy aimed at changing gay youth’s sexual orientation.
Excludes Religious Groups
Unlicensed pastors and lay counselors affiliated with church programs that seek to change gay youth to straight sexual identity are exempt from this law. The therapy’s effect on gay persons has been questioned or rejected by all the mental health professional associations. Reports of suicide, low self-esteem, depression have been experienced by those who have undergone reparative therapy. There are no long-term studies of the efficacy of the therapy.
Alan Chambers, Director of Exodus International, one of the more well-known ex-gay Christian organizations, issued an apology in June as did Robert Spitzer, M.D. of Columbia University who retracted his “Ex-Gay Study of 2001 last April. Spitzer, one of the original psychiatrists who led the movement to have homosexuality as a disorder removed from the Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual in 1973, deemed his study faulty.
Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris stated that the ban was necessary to protect children from a coercive practice that can put them at increased risk of suicide. Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey recently signed into law a similar ban on reparative therapy for minors in his state.
Injunction Against SB1172
The new ban was scheduled to go into effect January 1 but was put on hold by the 9th Circuit. District Court Judge William Shubb blocked the law banning the harmful therapy.
The cases that the appeals court had to decide on were brought by professionals who practice sexual orientation change therapy, two families who said their teenage sons benefitted from the therapy, and a national association of Christian mental health counselors argue that the ban infringes on their free speech, freedom of association and religious rights, and in the case of the counselors, jeopardizes their livelihoods.
However, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1985, Judge Susan Graber, a 1998 appointee of Bill Clinton’s, and Judge Morgan Christen, a 2012 appointee of President Barack Obama, heard the case and unanimously held that California has the power to prohibit licensed mental health providers from administering therapies deemed harmful, and the fact that speech may be used to carry out these therapies does not turn such bans into prohibitions of speech.
The law says therapists and counselors who treat minors with methods designed to eliminate or reduce their same-sex attractions would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards.