California Seeks to Enforce Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy
By Karen Gullo - Apr 17, 2013 1:11 PM ET
California officials are seeking to enforce the state’s first-in-the nation law barring therapy for minors about avoiding homosexuality after conflicting rulings in lawsuits claiming the ban is unconstitutional.
Lawyers for California Attorney General Kamala Harris say the counseling, known as gay conversion therapy, is discredited and unsafe, and the state’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of minors trumps free-speech concerns. Therapists, parents and counseling groups supporting the practice say the law quells doctor-patient speech and means molested teens with urges to sexually act out can’t get help.
Two federal judges in Sacramento reached opposite conclusions in separate lawsuits about whether the 2012 law, originally scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, should be enforced while the lawsuits to overturn the law proceed. One sided with gay-conversion therapists and blocked enforcement, the other sided with the state.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco put the law on hold in December and began hearing arguments today on whether that stay should remain in effect while the measure’s constitutionality is being decided.
Mat Staver, a lawyer for the law’s opponents, told the appeals panel that the law is “overbroad” and there’s no evidence the therapy is harmful to minors.
California’s ban on “sexual orientation change efforts,” or SOCE, passed by lawmakers in August and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September, notes U.S. psychology groups urge patients and parents to avoid the counseling because it’s harmful. The law bars doctors, psychologists, family therapists and social workers from providing sexual orientation conversion therapy to patients under 18. Violators are subject to discipline by state licensing entities.
New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania lawmakers are mulling similar rules.
“For more than forty years, every mainstream mental health organization has agreed that same-sex attraction is not a disease in need of a cure,” Deputy Attorney General Alexandra Robert Gordon said in a court filing. “Nonetheless, the practice of SOCE persisted in the face of the evidence that SOCE does not work and may cause minors to suffer a range of harms, including suicidality, depression and numerous other physical and psychological problems.”
Lawyers at Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal group representing plaintiffs, say the law was politically motivated to interfere with counselors and clients.
Mary McAlister, an attorney for the legal group Liberty Counsel, said in a court filing that the law could prevent families from seeking help for children who are sexually molested.
The law “is unconstitutionally overbroad in that it would prohibit a minor and his parents from seeking help from a licensed professional if the likes of a Jerry Sandusky sexually molested a minor, and, as often happens, the minor, developed anger and identity confusion, began to have urges to act out sexually in the way he was abused, and wanted to reduce or eliminate that behavior,” McAlister said.
Sandusky, an assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University under the late Joe Paterno, was sentenced in October to at least 30 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.
The cases are Pickup v. Brown, 13-15023, and Welch v. Brown, 13-15023, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
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