The push to ban sexual-orientation “change” therapy for children is growing as lawmakers in at least eight states have introduced bills to outlaw the practice and gay-rights advocates expect at least a few to become law this year.
In Maryland, Delegate Jon S. Cardin, a Democrat who is running for state attorney general, has filed legislation that would ban such therapy. He said leading medical and psychological organizations have declared that “being gay is not a disease or a choice.”
Lawmakers in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia also have introduced bills to ban sexual-orientation change efforts for minors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association oppose this form of therapy.
“These dangerous treatments that attempt to address depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior may only serve to reinforce self-hatred,” said a summary of a New York bill introduced last year by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman filed a companion bill.
Virginia’s bill has been killed in committee, but the others are expected to move toward passage this year.
The bills resemble laws in California and New Jersey that say “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy is unscientific and harmful, especially for children struggling with their sexual identification. The laws essentially permit children to have only “gay-affirming” therapy.
The bans on sexual-orientation change efforts are likely to “follow the path of marriage equality,” with Maryland and Massachusetts the most likely states to approve bills this year, said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, an advocacy group that “fights the ‘ex-gay’ myth.”
Truth Wins Out has created a website, LGBTScience.org, to build the case against sexual-orientation change therapy, which it calls “junk science.”
There is even hope that if California state Sen. Ted Lieu, author of the nation’s first ban on sexual-orientation change efforts, wins his race to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat, he will push for a national ban on such therapy for children.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, has filed a resolution with 17 co-sponsors saying that Congress views sexual-orientation change therapy as having no legitimate purpose, and is dangerous and harmful to minors.
But some proposed bans are meeting resistance. Virginia lawmakers swiftly killed such legislation in committee this month, and leaders of organizations that address “sexual brokenness” say sexual-orientation change efforts are essential to helping those who want to escape unwanted same-sex attractions and experiences.
“I know a number of men who felt suicidal because they thought they were stuck with homosexuality and had no hope until they found out about the therapy and ministry opportunities available,” said Anne Paulk, executive director of Restored Hope Network, an organization with nearly 40 ministries that address sexual and gender issues.
“Each person should have the right to choose the direction of their life and not be prohibited from living congruently with their faith and/or ethics,” she said.
“For children who struggle with same-sex attractions, like I did when I was 18, it’s important for them to know that there’s more than one option, other than, ‘Hey, just accept that you’re gay and find a good gay group and ride happily into the sunset,’” said DL Foster, pastor of Overcomers Network, a Bible-based ministry that helps people live and act in sexually moral ways.