Tuesday, October 9, 2012

California Bans Conversion Therapy for Minors

On Saturday, September 29th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that would ban so-called "conversion therapy" for minors. Calling attempts to cure homosexuality "nonscientific" and "quackery" in a statement quoted in the New York Times, Brown drew praise from LGBTQ rights activists.

I applaud California's decision to regarding this homophobic "therapy," which is not only dubious, but potentially destructive. In a 2009 report, the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation concluded that sexual orientation change efforts are unlikely to be successful and may actually cause harm. Researchers have warned that patients of conversion therapy not only have abysmal rates of sexual orientation change, but also report problems such as low self-esteem and depression. In some cases, such as Kirk Murphy's, conversion therapy has ended in tragedy.

Of course, members of the Religious Right see the new law differently. Cue the outrage and lawsuits!

First, in an October 1st news release, Liberty Counsel announced its intention to file a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization that supports "conversion" therapy. Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver claimed that the new legislation violates parental rights and would force mental health professionals to ignore or change clients' religious beliefs.  

The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group, also announced plans to file a federal lawsuit to seek an injunction against implementation the law. In a September 30th press release, PJI president Brad Dacus called the legislation a "freedom-killing bill," criticizing it for making no exceptions "for young victims of sexual abuse who are plagued with unwanted same-sex attraction." 

To boot, ABC News reports that three plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against California state officials, alleging that the new law violates freedom of religion and speech. The plaintiffs claim that the ban on conversion therapy would allegedly impede their counseling practices.

Religious Right commentators have wasted no time in voicing their outrage. First, in an October 2nd commentary at Charisma Magazine, news editor Jennifer Leclaire expressed outrage at Brown's decision. "Since when is helping a confused teenager under assault by powers of this dark world a dustbin of quackery?" she asked. Leclaire wrote that she does not believe minors are born gay, that homosexuality involves a "spirit of immorality" and "sexual brokenness," and that attempts to change one's sexual orientation involves "set[ting] the captives free." Predictably, she caricatured LGBTQ-affirming counseling as something that would "affirm and encourage experimentation." In keeping with Religious Right homophobia, she thus depicted homosexuality as a spiritual pathology that someone oppresses those who experience it. In hyperbolic fashion, she wondered if California lawmakers would ban the Gospel, anti-LGBTQ ministries, and tax-exempt status for churches. In doing so, she equated homophobia and conversion therapy with Christian faith, depicting the California legislation as an attack on Christianity. The fact that people can be Christians without embracing homophobia or pseudoscience was not considered.

Second, in an open letter to Senator Ted Lieu, a key supporter of the legislation, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) called the legislation "an act of childhood endangerment" and an affront to parental rights. The letter blasted the bill for its supposed whiff of "fascism and ex-gay bashing" and for "promoting homosexual behavior to sexually confused youth."  

Right-wing airwaves have lambasted the law as well. On the October 2nd edition of Issues, Etc., the National Organization for Marriage's Ruth Institute president Jennifer Morse expressed disapproval of the law. She insisted that she's met people who claim to have changed their sexual orientation. (Hat tip to Equality Matters.)
"What the gay lobby wants us to believe is that if you’re gay, you’re gay, and there’s absolutely no possibility of anybody ever changing their sexual orientation from gay to straight. Now that’s a very, very strong position for them to take because all it requires is one counter-example to disprove it, right? All you have to do is have one person who says “hey, I changed,” you know, and that extreme claim that they’re making is down the tubes, right? And you know, I’m acquainted with people who tell me that at one time in their life they were of homosexual orientation and now they’re telling me they are not of homosexual orientation. So what am I supposed to believe? That they’re lying to me?"
On the October 2nd edition of The Janet Mefferd Show, Save California president Randy Thomasson framed conversion therapy as just another "controversy" in society. He encouraged pastors and counselors to defy the law and continue promoting conversion therapy. (Hat tip to Equality Matters.)
"The homosexual activists say, 'I want to wipe out our rivals here.' Well, look, if somethings's controversial, then you can't wipe it out. Otherwise, you have to apply the same rule. Let's wipe out regressive therapy, which is controversial. Let's wipe out tarot card therapy ... Let's wipe out chiropractic care. Let's wipe out vaccinations. Let's wipe out chemotherapy. You can't, in a free society, get rid of all controversies. You have to allow controversy and disagreement within a free society. In fact, tolerance means that you have to disagree with something in order to tolerate it, so what's disagreeable, you sometimes have to allow, and this should be allowed. And that's why we're calling upon knowledgeable pastors and courageous counselors to defy this law and continue helping the souls of children who have gender identity confusion."
Additionally, Linda Harvey of Mission America weighed in on the new law during the October 5th edition of her radio show. Harvey suggested that the law would do a disservice to "troubled" youth who are "struggling" with homosexuality or "gender confusion." The idea that such youth might only be "struggling" because people in their lives have convinced them that homosexuality is sinful or pathological was not entertained. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"If a teen is struggling with homosexual feelings or gender confusion and has been convinced he or she may have been born gay, counselors in California will not be able to tell them there is no science to back that up nor to warn them and help them to begin to change these feelings. Many people have overcome homosexual desires but in California such advice will not be coming from school counselors or other therapists a parent might choose, instead they will be helping troubled youth feel comfortable with deviance."
Harvey went on to demonize homosexuality as a sin, framing homosexuality and Christian faith as mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed. The new law, she insisted, was a supposed attack on religious freedom.
"Religious freedoms are being assaulted by the left regularly now and every Christian family needs to stay informed to understand what is happening. We always have a choice to believe God, in season or out. In the Bible, homosexuality is always a sin and there’s no indication our Lord acknowledges anything like a homosexual orientation. Yes people can have persistent struggle with the same sin but are we ever supposed to adopt a sin identity? No. We are supposed to flee sexual immorality and we are also warned by Jesus not to draw children into sin. But when government tells people they must allow their children to be led into homosexual sin, it is definitely time for new leadership."
The tired rhetoric here is all too familiar. Once again, Religious Right figures depict homosexuality as a spiritual pathology or burden from which youth must be "freed," or an alleged affront to religious freedom, or an attack on parental rights, or an attack on Christianity, ad nauseum. Research on the shortcomings of conversion therapy, as well as horror stories from its survivors, have yet to change their minds. Fortunately, enlightened citizens and lawmakers are reaching logical conclusions about conversion therapy, so let's hope that this new California law is only the beginning.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Southern Poverty Law Center: California ‘conversion’ therapy ban is important step for protecting LGBT youth

Human Rights Campaign: Gov. Brown Signs SB 1172 Protecting California’s Youth

The Wild Hunt: Pagan Psychotherapist Celebrates Conversion Therapy Ban in California

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: California's ban on 'ex-gay' therapy causing controversy, will be challenged in court

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