Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law banning gay conversion therapy for minors. Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, aims to change one’s sexual orientation, typically from gay to straight. According to the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Ted Lieu, it amounts to nothing more than “psychological child abuse” because it can put youths at a higher risk of depression and suicide.
Days after the legislation was signed into law, one college student and two therapists filed a lawsuit against the State of California, alleging that the law banning the therapy violates the First Amendment protections of free speech, privacy and freedom of religion. The student, Aaron Blitzer, claims he had same-sex attractions but was “cured” after conversion therapy; he is now studying to be a therapist in that field. The two therapists, Donald Welsch and Dr. Anthony Duk, both practice the therapy and say the law would restrict their counseling practices.
According to Brad Dacus, president and attorney for the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, the law violates the rights of minors who have same-sex attractions as a result of being victims of sexual abuse and desire therapy. Dacus says the law makes them “victims twice, as a result denying them counseling and healing.”
Earlier this year, psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer apologized for his 2003 study of reparative therapy in which he suggested that the practice could help gays and lesbians become straight. He said the study was deeply flawed.”I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy,” Spitzer said
Meanwhile, members of the California Psychiatric Association have “mixed feelings” about the law, according to Randal Hagar, director of government relations for the organization.
“There is no psychiatrist who would engage and practice it and, if they did, they would be subject to ethical sanctions,” he said.
However, the CPA is concerned about any bill that prescribes a type of treatment for a certain condition or a bill that might lead to legislation against a treatment that someone doesn’t like.
Hagar notes that in this case, however, there is strong argument to limit this type of therapy. “There is no evidence it does what it purports to be. It is, in essence, fraud … and there is other evidence that it does harm. It concerns us greatly,” explains Hagar.
The CPA worked with legislators over several months refining the language of the bill and relied on another precedent: electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which is regulated with judicial oversight. “You can’t give it to minors—period,” Hagar said.
Matt McReynolds, also an attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute, argues that the lawsuit revolves around a legal issue, not a moral one.
“It’s not a debate in court about whether reparative therapy is a good thing, or how well it works, so much as it is a debate of the role of the government dictating to professionals, patients, and religious institutions what their options are going to be in that area,” he said.