In a historic decision, California has become the first state to ban controversial “conversion therapies” for minors which aim to “overcome” homosexuality, setting a precedent rooted in scientific evidence and child protection that other states should quickly follow.
“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide,” Governor Jerry Brown tweeted after signing the bill, SB1172, on Saturday. “These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu, (D-Torrance), to prohibit medical health professionals from “engaging in sexual orientation change efforts” with minors. An extensive review of peer-reviewed scientific literature was cited as evidence for the law which will go into effect on January 1, 2013, including the American Psychological Association’s 2009 finding that “sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks” to participants, including confusion, depression, hopelessness, and suicidality.
“Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming,” the bill states. “The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.”
Conversion therapy, nicknamed by critics as an effort to “pray the gay away,” drew national media attention after accusations that clinics owned by 2012 Republican presidential candidate and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) husband practiced anti-gay counseling and treatment. While techniques vary from provider-to-provider, aversion therapy, reparative therapy, ministry, and sexual therapy are common.
The negative consequences that can result from “pray the gay away” methods became apparent during the lengthy testimony provided during California policy committee reviews of SB1172.
“If anyone had any doubts such practices were evil, they need only listen to accounts of victims who went through this abusive practice,” Lieu shared. “Some victims, such as Kirk Murphy, committed suicide. This law is partly in remembrance of Kirk.”
Advocates for the ban included Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, as well as the California Psychological Association, Equality California, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, California Division, and several other prominent civil rights and psychology groups.
Not everyone was celebrating the bill’s passage. Several Republican lawmakers opposed it, and the conservative Pacific Justice Institute called the law “an infringement upon the free speech rights of therapists and the right of patients to get access to information.”
While a battle still rages in America to convince people that homosexuality is not a choice (or that if it is, it shouldn’t matter anyway), legal decisions like this one must be made to protect our nation's most vulnerable. “Pray the gay away” therapies have been proven to hurt youth. They will not be tolerated in California, and should not be practiced anywhere.