A ban on forms of psychotherapy to make gay people "straight" is being considered by the California State Senate. The bill is currently being amended and if passed will be the first bill to regulate the practice of sexual orientation conversion therapy.
The Christian Post reports that the Senate Bill 1127 introduced by State Senator Ted Lieu in February, prohibits conversion therapy for anyone under age of 18 and requires that adults sign an informed consent form before having access to treatment. According to The Christian Post, part of the bill reads: "Under no circumstances shall a patient under 18 years of age undergo sexual orientation change efforts, regardless of the willingness of a patient's parent, guardian, conservator, or other person to authorize such efforts."
AP reports that supporters of the bill say the ban is being considered because gay conversion therapies are ineffectual and harmful. According to the author of the bill Sen. Ted Lieu, "This therapy can be dangerous," and can "cause extreme depression and guilt" that may lead to suicide.
But conservative religious groups contest these claims and say the ban will interfere with parents' rights to seek appropriate psychological care for their children.
Representatives of the National Association for Research and therapy of Homosexuality called the bill a "piece of social engineering masquerading." According to David Pickup, a psychologist registered with the California Board of Psychology, the ban would prevent people from recovering from trauma of sexual abuse. He said: "Any therapist worth his salt knows that homosexual feelings commonly occur in victims as a result of abuses. I ought to know because I was one of those boys."
Conservative religious leaders argue that it is important for families to continue having access to conversion therapy for their teen children. Some religious ministries in the U.S. facilitate access to gay teen conversion therapies. The Christian Post reports that David Pruden, vice president of Operations for the North American Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), said that the legislation was a "basic attack on all religion." He said sarcastically: "We need to try and eliminate counseling for those who freely seek assistance for their unwanted homosexual desires because it makes some folks who may have decided to become committed gays feel depressed and sad. How long will it be before adoption counseling or advocating against abortion is a hate crime because it makes some people feel sad or depressed?"
The involvement of religious groups in facilitating access to conversion therapy was highlighted when the Christian counseling outfit run by Michele Bachmann's husband came under public scrutiny after allegations that it provided gay conversion therapy based on religious perspective of homosexuality. The practice has received media attention in recent years after teenagers whose parents sent for conversion therapy shared their experiences online. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who backed the new bill said his parents sent him to a therapist when he was a teenager but he was able to overcome negative feelings about his sexual orientation only because the therapist did not promote the idea that his orientation was a pathological condition. He said:"There are many that are trapped in this horror situation. And it can have extraordinarily negative impacts."
AP reports that Exodus International is the world's largest Christian referral network dealing with homosexuality. The organization has 35 ministries and churches in California and manages 260 gay therapy groups.
Mainstream mental health organizations are, however, trying to discourage gay conversion therapies. According to AP, in 2009, the American Psychological Association said mental health professionals should not encourage gays to seek conversion therapy. The association claimed that research findings suggest that conversion therapy could lead to depression and suicidal tendencies and that there is no reliable scientific evidence that conversion therapy is effective.
The American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association have also opposed conversion therapy.
Gay right activists have expectedly approved the ban, saying it could encourage similar legislation in other states. AP reports that the new measure would likely face legal challenges. Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute, said: "We're talking about stepping into the doctors' room or the psychiatrists' office and clamping a hand over the mouths of the clinicians."
But the author of the bill Senator Lieu, says the bill addresses free speech issues by limiting itself to professionals and excluding clergy and other people who are not medical professionals. Lieu said: "This doesn't apply to clergy or other religious institutions— there are other places [people] can go if they really believe that they want this issue to be looked at. Because this is not medicine, you can't engage in this with children."
Consideration of the bill comes after Vice President Joe Biden, said he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex couples getting the same rights as heterosexual couples. But he did not say whether the Obama administration will officially endorse gay marriage in its second term. Boston.com reports he said: “I can’t speak to that. I don’t know the answer to that... I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy."