While California became the first state Saturday to pass a bill that bans minors from receiving reparative therapy—a counseling method that tries to help a person change sexual orientation—the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) and Liberty Council have announced plans to challenge the law in court.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, would be the first in California to outlaw a specific kind of therapy. It prohibits all reparative therapy for minors and forces adults to sign a release form stating that the counseling is ineffective and possibly dangerous. Supporters of the law claim that reparative therapy psychologically harms children and forces them to try to change their sexual orientation.
“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide,’’ California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the bill late Saturday, said in a statement Sunday. “These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”
But opponents of the new law say it is based on the political beliefs of the lawmakers rather than actual evidence of harm. Patients have not filed any complaints about reparative therapists to the state’s licensing board, and even the American Psychological Association admits it does not know the prevalence of harm caused by reparative therapy.
“The evidence is not strong at all in favor of this type of ban, not nearly strong enough for the government to take such sweeping actions,” said attorney Matthew McReynolds, of PJI.
The California legislature heard anecdotes of both those with negative and positive experiences of reparative therapy but still choose to ban it.
The law’s opponents also counter that like all counseling, reparative therapy does not force anything on patients but helps them change their sexual orientation if that’s what they want.
“Nothing suggests therapists are trying to coerce a child, it’s both unethical—you could lose your license—and nonsensical,” said David Pruden, vice president of operations at the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. “You can’t help anyone who doesn’t want help.”
PJI plans to file a lawsuit over the unconstitutionality of the law as it violates the First Amendment: The ban restricts a patient’s rights to access services and opinions that differ from state orthodoxy and the therapist’s right to give the best professional advice.
The law also does not include a religious exemption, thus restricting the freedom of religion, as churches would be unable to provide access to mental health professionals who could help young members overcome same-sex attraction.
The law also voids parental rights over their child.
“This bill goes further than anything we’ve ever seen in California—which says a lot—in the intrusion of family and family autonomy in this extremely sensitive issue,” PJI’s McReynolds said.
And state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, the writer of the bill, has admitted that parental rights would be taken away. In an article in The Orange County Register in July, Lieu said, “The attack on parental rights is exactly the whole point of the bill because we don’t want to let parents harm their children.” He went on to compare it to parents who encourage their children to drink or smoke.
Lieu’s beliefs are reflected in the law, which claims that parents who do not affirm their child’s same-sex attraction cause a “serious” health risk for minors. McReynolds fears this could lead to the state taking children from their parents.
Pruden believes the language of Lieu and the bill he wrote demonizes those who believe same-sex attraction can be changed: “It’s as simple as gay activists wanting rights of marriage and adoption. … If you were to suggest that some people feel uncomfortable being gay and they have changed their sexual orientation, that feels very threatening to them.”