- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2012

California groups that support parental rights and therapies to help people escape unwanted same-sex attractions are fighting a first-of-its-kind California bill that would ban such sessions for teens and children, and discourage them for adults.

SB 1172, which opponents say is a denial of freedom and family rights, already has been approved by one California state Senate committee, and is scheduled to be discussed Tuesday by members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would ban anyone under age 18 from receiving sexual-orientation change efforts (SOCE). It would also require adults seeking SOCE to first sign a statement warning that that SOCE is “unlikely to be effective,” could be harmful, and is not recommended by mental health professional groups.

Efforts to change sexual orientation are “junk science, and it must stop,” said Democratic state Sen. Ted W. Lieu, the bill’s author.

SOCE covers a range of therapies and counseling aimed at changing “the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual,” Mr. Lieu’s office said in a fact sheet.

The “changeability” of homosexual orientation is a hot-button issue because arguments about gay rights and marriage stand on the legal assertion that sexual orientation is generally inborn and immutable. Many gay-rights organizations and activists revile SOCE and reject the idea that there are “ex-gays.”

“The medical community is unanimous in stating that homosexuality is not a medical condition,” Mr. Lieu said. Orientation-change efforts have “no medical basis,” but do pose “critical health risks” to people, including substance abuse, suicide, depression, guilt and shame.

“Simply put, this is an unacceptable therapeutic practice,” Mr. Lieu said.

Clarissa Filgioun, president of Equality California’s board of directors, a lead backer of the Lieu bill, said that gays have long “suffered psychological abuse.”

“It’s long past time to do everything in our power to put an end to the use of therapy tactics that have no sound scientific basis and that cause lifelong damage,” Ms. Filgioun said.

Mr. Lieu and his allies cite prestigious mental health professional organizations that assert that the emergence of same-sex attraction is not abnormal or mentally unhealthy, and that research shows that efforts to change sexual orientation “are unlikely to be successful.”

In contrast, leaders of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) say Mr. Lieu’s bill is filled with “misinformation” and threatens science, mental health and client rights.

A bill like this “is very concerning,” because it could become a model for other states, said David C. Pruden, vice president for operations for NARTH.

It also addresses a nonproblem, Mr. Pruden said. “Our people are ethical, licensed, responsible members of their professional associations. They are not people out on the fringes doing nutty kinds of things … . They’ve practiced quietly and successfully for years, with no problems and no ethical complaints.”

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a legal-defense group that objects to the bill’s impact on “free speech and family rights” called the proposal “one of the most outrageous, speech-chilling bills we have ever seen in California - and thats saying a lot.”

Matthew McReynolds, a lawyer with PJI, noted that the bill appears to give the state the “power to take kids away from parents who do not affirm the kids’ sexual confusion.”

David Pickup, a California marriage and family therapist, told a state Senate committee hearing in April that SB 1172 is “full of factual inaccuracies,” including saying that SOCE doesn’t work, though some peer-reviewed studies show it does.

“I myself am a former SOCE client,” said Mr. Pickup, president of the International Institute of Reorientation Therapies. “I haven’t just experienced behavioral change. I have experienced in my life actual, emotional change.”

Many people have been “helped immeasurably” by these therapies, Mr. Pickup told the lawmakers, going on to ask, “Are you going to marginalize and discriminate against” them by restricting or banning these therapies?