A California bill to ban therapies to "change" sexual orientation in children and teens passed its final legislative hurdle late Thursday and now goes to California Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.
"Few things are more offensive than child abuse and, frankly, that's what these types of psychological treatments are," said Sen. Ted W. Lieu of Torrance, author of Senate Bill 1172, which he introduced in February. "These attempts are quackery, and this kind of psychological abuse of children must stop."
Mr. Brown has not taken a position on SB 1172, and he has until Sept. 30 to sign, veto or allow its protections to take effect without his signature on Jan. 1, 2013. If enacted, the measure would be the first of its kind in the nation.
If enacted into law, traditional-values advocates are preparing a court challenge to block it. But gay-rights advocates are cheering the measure for ending therapies they consider fraudulent and abusive to gay, lesbian and bisexual youth.
"These dangerous, unscientific practices have caused too many young people to take their own lives or suffer lifelong harm after being told, falsely, that who they are and who they love is wrong, sick or the result of personal and moral failure," said Clarissa Filgioun, president of the board of Equality California. "We applaud the legislation, and in particular, Sen. Ted Lieu, for putting a stop to the psychological abuse these misguided practitioners have inflicted on vulnerable youth and families," she said.
The legislation forbids California mental health professionals from providing sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) to anyone aged 17 or younger, or risk being disciplined for unprofessional conduct. It defines SOCE as therapies "that seek to change an individual's sexual orientation," including efforts to "eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex."
Gay-rights groups, such as Equality California and AllOut.org, say this means therapists or other mental health professionals can no longer use shame, verbal abuse, aversion training or "pray-away-the-gay" tactics with children and youth. "This bill will literally save lives," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
"Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming," states the bill, written by Mr. Lieu, a Democrat.
The goal is to protect children from unethical practices, the state senator said this week after the California Assembly approved the bill. "Even professionals agree that this quackery needs to stop," Mr. Lieu said, noting that the legislation contains numerous warnings about SOCE from mental health organizations, including the American Psychoanalytic Association and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Opponents say the Lieu bill -- which only permits "gay-affirming" therapies for minors -- tramples on parents' rights to care for their children and mental health professionals' rights to offer the most optimal therapies to a patient, and it encourages "ex-gay bashing."
"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," Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) said in a recent letter to Mr. Lieu.
Also, the bill itself is not based on science because claims of widespread harm to minors from SOCE "represent rhetoric, not research," said the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a trade group that includes therapists who provide SOCE.
If the Lieu bill is enacted, a legal challenge is likely, Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said this week. Potential plaintiffs include organizations, counselors, and parents and minors who found SOCE to be beneficial and don't want it banned, he said.
Moreover, in light of statements by gay activists that this kind of legislation needs to pass in other states and countries, "we believe it needs to be stopped at the very beginning," said Mr. Staver. "So we are going to jump on this pretty quickly."
The origin of homosexual attraction remain a mystery despite decades of research.
Biological differences have been noted between heterosexuals and homosexuals, but efforts to find biological causative factors, such as genes or hormones, have been unsuccessful. Other explanations, such as parental upbringing or childhood abuse, have also proved inconclusive.
Gay advocates say that, regardless of the cause, being gay, lesbian or bisexual is inborn, natural and cannot be changed; thus, "ex-gay" ministries are specious and individuals claiming to have switched from homosexual to heterosexual are not to be believed.
However, NARTH, PFOX and like-minded groups say there are many "former homosexuals," and unwanted same-sex attractions can be modified or overcome in some circumstances.
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