- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two sets of parents and their teenage sons are among the plaintiffs in a second federal lawsuit filed Thursday to block a new California law on counseling from going into effect.

Beginning Jan. 1, California minors will be prohibited from receiving “sexual-orientation change efforts” (SOCE) regarding their sexual orientation, behavior and gender expression, according to SB 1172, which was signed Sunday by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

This means that only therapies that are supportive or affirming of same-sex attractions will be permitted for underage clients. Therapists who disobey the law risk being disciplined for unprofessional conduct.

Gay-rights groups and many California mental health organizations either sponsored or endorsed the law, saying SOCE is unfounded and harmful to people.

But traditional-values groups and counselors and clients who support SOCE argued against it.

SB 1172 “is an astounding violation of the right to free speech and religious liberty,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a legal-defense organization that filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.

The law is wrong “because it is telling a client that he or she may not receive a specific viewpoint in counseling,” even if that viewpoint aligns with their religious or moral values, said Mr. Staver. “And, for the first time, it is telling a counselor, ‘You can only give one viewpoint and not another, even though your client requests the other viewpoint.’”

The Liberty Counsel plaintiffs include the American Association of Christian Counselors; National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality; NARTH President Christopher Rosik; NARTH co-founder Joseph Nicolosi; marriage and family therapist David Pickup; and two California couples who have teenage sons who wish to continue SOCE counseling for unwanted same-sex attractions. The families are not identified.

Earlier in the week, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) also filed a lawsuit against SB 1172 in the same federal court.

SB 1172 illegally creates a “new category of banned speech,” forces clients and therapists to violate their religious beliefs, and forces therapists to violate their own ethics and refuse service to minors seeking help for their sexual issues, said the lawsuit filed by PJI lawyer Matthew McReynolds.

It also violates the rights of parents to raise their children according to their values, and sets up new state invasions of privacy: It’s the “equivalent of government agents listening in on highly sensitive and private counseling or therapeutic sessions to determine whether the professional’s advice and communications are consistent with state orthodoxy,” said the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the PJI lawsuit are Donald Welch, a licensed marriage and family therapist, adjunct college professor, and ordained minister; psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Duk; and Aaron Bitzer, a “successful former patient who experienced the benefits of” SOCE, who one day wants to offer therapy to minors with unwanted same-sex attractions.

Both lawsuits name Mr. Brown and several state officials as defendants.

California state Sen. Ted Lieu, the primary sponsor of SB 1172, said Thursday the law will pass constitutional muster.

“The view that the U.S. Constitution contains a ‘right’ to practice baseless and harmful medical therapies is itself legal quackery,” said Mr. Lieu, a former prosecutor and graduate of Georgetown University’s law school.

“Since the founding of this country, it has been understood that government has a duty to protect children from abuse,” he said, adding that his bill was thoroughly reviewed for constitutional issues before it was enacted.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Equality California (EQCA), which both backed the Lieu law, called the lawsuits “meritless” and “grasping at straws.”

The new law “fits squarely” within laws designed to protect minors from harmful practices by licensed professionals, said David Codell, board member of EQCA and pro bono counsel.

“Every mainstream medical and mental health association in the country has warned that these [SOCE] practices are ineffective and dangerous,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of NCLR, which has pledged to help pass similar laws in other states.

“We will not rest until this ‘quackery,’ as Gov. Brown has called this practice, is illegal throughout our nation,” she said.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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