A movement to ban the controversial practice of “conversion therapy” that counsels gay children and teens on how to become straight is meeting with unexpected problems after the easy passage of bills in California and New Jersey.
State lawmakers in New York are planning a public hearing on a bill to ban conversion therapy in the state this month, but similar measures have floundered in as many as nine other state legislatures.
Supporters insist they still have political momentum to pass more bans on sexual orientation change efforts for minors, with one top campaigner saying the delays at the state level are only a temporary setback.
“This is just the beginning of work on this issue and our prospects look good,” said Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, which denounces the therapy as “anti-gay malice disguised as medicine.”
“Each year, the public grows more accepting and increasingly sees ‘ex-gay’ programs as backward and barbaric…,” said Mr. Besen. “It is my view that the sun is beginning to set on this form of psychological torture.”
But Christopher Doyle, a licensed clinical professional counselor who supports sexual orientation change efforts, said the bills were losing because of a coordinated effort by ex-gays to introduce themselves to lawmakers and talk up the potential benefits of the practice.
Ex-gays are explaining what the therapy is and why it is a positive experience, said Mr. Doyle, president of Voice of the Voiceless and a former homosexual.
They are also arguing that there can’t be a scientific basis for the claim that the therapy is harmful to children since “there is actually not one study” on sexual orientation change efforts and the impact on minors, Mr. Doyle said. These discussions have “created doubt about the legitimacy of these bills” among lawmakers.
Lawmakers may be realizing that they are trying to restrict youth counseling to “one thought” — gay-approving therapy, said Greg Quinlan, a former homosexual who is director of government affairs at the New Jersey Family Policy Council.
Organizations like Mr. Quinlan’s group fought the sexual orientation change effort ban in 2013. But the legislation was approved by state lawmakers after passionate debates and signed by August by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The governor said he had misgivings about state infringement of parental rights, but was swayed by the strong disapproval of the therapy by mental health and other professional organizations, as well as organizations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.
Therapists and groups have sued to overturn New Jersey’s ban; to date, the law has been upheld as constitutional.
The nation’s first sexual orientation change effort ban was enacted 2012 in California. That law, SB 1172, was also contested in court, but has been upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Therapist David Pickup and his pro-gay conversion therapy colleagues are now waiting to hear if the Supreme Court will take their case for review.
Since 2013, a flurry of lawmakers in other states have introduced bills to ban sexual orientation change efforts. Most of these bills — in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington state — have either been defeated or left to languish. A Massachusetts bill appears to be alive, although its lead sponsor has left the legislature for another job.
New York’s sexual orientation change effort ban, however, is a top priority for Empire State Pride Agenda. The measure has bipartisan backers in both the state Senate and Assembly, and will be the topic of a May 15 legislative forum.
“People feel very strongly about this [bill] because there is growing interest in the plight of LGBT youth,” said State Sen. Brad Hoylman, the bill’s lead sponsor and representative of many gay-friendly Manhattan communities such as Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the East Village.