Calif. gay conversion therapists win first round in court

A US District Court Judge made a decision just hours after a hearing on the issue, ruling that First Amendment rights of therapists outweigh concerns about danger to young people of gay conversion therapy.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance (l.) and David Pickup, a licensed marriage and family therapist, address lawmakers in favor and opposition, respectively, of a bill to ban a controversial form of psychotherapy aimed at making gay people straight during a hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked California from enforcing a first-of-its-kind law that bars licensed psychotherapists from working to change the sexual orientation of gay minors, but he limited the scope of his order to just the three providers who have appealed to him to overturn the measure.

U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb made a decision on Monday just hours after a hearing on the issue, ruling that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals who engage in "reparative" or "conversion" therapy outweigh concern that the practice poses a danger to young people. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and other basic rights.

"Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech," Shubb wrote.

The judge also disputed the California Legislature's finding that trying to change young people's sexual orientation puts them at risk for suicide or depression, saying it was based on "questionable and scientifically incomplete studies."

The law, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, states that therapists and counselors who use "sexual orientation change efforts" on clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards. It is set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Although the ruling is a setback for the law's supporters, the judge softened the impact of his decision by saying that it applies only to three people — psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor who specializes in clients who are unhappy being gay.

The exemption for them will remain in place only until Shubb can hold a trial on the merits of their case, although in granting their request for an injunction, the judge noted he thinks they would prevail in getting the law struck down on constitutional grounds.

Bitzer, Duk and Welch were represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, a Christian legal group. President Brad Dacus said he thought Shubb's ruling would have a chilling effect that would keep the licensing boards that regulate mental health professionals from targeting other practitioners.

"If there are any, we can easily add them to the case as a plaintiff," Dacus said. "We know we will have to have another hearing on the merits, but to be able to get a preliminary injunction at this stage is very telling as to the final outcome, and I'm very encouraged by it."

Complicating the outlook for the law is that another federal judge in Sacramento is considering similar arguments from four more counselors, two families and a professional association of Christian counselors, but has not decided yet whether to keep the ban from taking effect.

"We are disappointed by the ruling, but very pleased that the temporary delay in implementing this important law applies only to the three plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit," National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter said. "We are confident that as the case progresses, it will be clear to the court that this law is fundamentally no different than many other laws that regulate health care professionals to protect patients."

Lawyers for the state argue that outlawing reparative therapy is appropriate because it would protect young people from a practice that has been rejected as unproven and potentially harmful by all the mainstream mental health associations.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Calif. gay conversion therapists win first round in court
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Latest-News-Wires/2012/1204/Calif.-gay-conversion-therapists-win-first-round-in-court
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe