California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that bans “conversion” therapy.
California’s landmark decision to ban minors from undergoing therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation has magnified a number of ongoing debates at the intersection of politics, psychology and religion.
The bill, SB1172, bans licensed therapists from practicing so-called “conversion” therapy based on the belief that it can cause psychological harm. It was introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) in February and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) Sept. 30.
“This bills bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” Gov. Brown said in a statement issued after signing the bill, as reported by The New York Times.
Several advocates of “ex-gay” therapy, as it is also called, have taken efforts to challenge the legislation before it goes into effect Jan. 1.
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), the nation’s leading “ex-gay” advocacy group, issued an open letter addressed to Sen. Lieu, which questions the bill’s possible violation of parents’ rights to make decisions for their children.
“As parents of gays and ex-gays, we are ashamed of your willingness to take action against parents, children and the family in order to support gay activists. It is people like you who endanger children, and not their parents, whom you wish to dictate on how they raise their own children,” the letter said. “California is not a socialist state and our children do not belong to the government, subject to the ideology of the state over the objections of their parents.”
Another prevailing argument against the bill asserts that it violates privacy and free-speech rights. This argument serves as the grounds for lawsuits filed by the Pacific Justice Institute and Liberty Counsel, two Christian legal groups.
LGBT support and advocacy groups, however, including those affiliated with universities throughout the nation, have expressed a belief that the bill will invoke positive change.
“I think it’s a big step in the right direction in terms of policymakers stepping in on behalf of LGBT issues, where I think they’ve been too afraid to before,” said Lauren B. Hannahs, director of LGBT Affairs at the University of Florida. “It’s bold and it reinforces what the psychology community has been saying for a long time, that this [therapy] is a very challenging practice, that it does not work and that it has serious, long-term psychological damage on young people and anyone, really, that goes through it.”
In 2009, a task force of the American Psychological Association issued a report titled “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation,” in which it concluded that despite the claims of those who practice and advocate efforts to change sexual orientation, these efforts “are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm.”
“To convince any person, let alone a child, that the fundamental stuff of their being is wrong or sinful is damaging beyond words,” said Jake Tolan, a University of Pennsylvania senior and vice-chair of political affairs for the Lambda Alliance, a coalition of LGBT students. “It is not hard to call this some sort of psychosexual eugenics and its intended effect is very similar: the extermination of an entire population of sexual desires and lifestyles.”
The ban is the latest in a series of developments in LGBT affairs that have taken place in recent years, from the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” to the controversy surrounding the suicide of a Rutgers University student following the ridicule of his sexual orientation by a fellow student to President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage. Although the ban provides a positive step, however, the LGBT community and its advocates maintain that there is still a long way to go.
“I think it’s a way of stepping away from homophobia and the really blatant, serious effects of homophobia. I don’t think it does anything to tackle heteronormativity and the belief that gay people and straight people are somehow different and that somehow their relationships are different,” said Hannahs.
“There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of that work is on a very fundamental level of some people believing that it is simply wrong to be gay,” Tolan said. “Conversion therapy operates on the principle that something wrong can be made right, but most gay men and women understand that it’s not a question of wrong and right. It’s another completely valid form of expression of identity.”