California Ups Ante on Fight of Conversion Therapy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California is on the verge of shunning treatments that promise to “cure” patients of homosexuality through hypnosis, counseling and even electric shock sessions.

The state Senate on Thursday cleared a proposal to list so-called conversion therapy as a fraudulent business practice, bringing it under the umbrella of state consumer-protection laws and opening the door for victims to sue practitioners.

California outlawed conversion or reparative therapy for minors in 2012 but there is still a fringe market for adults. The current measure, Assembly Bill 2943 by Assemblyman Evan Low, makes it illegal to advertise practices claiming to “change an individual’s sexual orientation.”

Low, D-Cupertino, hopes the threat of a fine or lawsuit will encourage clinicians to forgo the controversial practice which has been discredited worldwide by medical and mental health organizations.

“We as legislators have a responsibility to protect Californians from harmful and deceptive practices,” Low said after the floor vote. “I am grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for affirming their support for those in the LGBT community who need it most by voting for this bill.”

The Senate passed the bill on a party-line vote, without a Republican vote. The measure heads back to the Assembly for a vote on procedural amendments and then to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for final approval. The Assembly approved AB 2943 by a 50-18 margin in April.

Critics of the bill, mainly Baptist and fundamentalist Christian groups, claim it’s a direct attempt at legislating sexual behavior and a religious intrusion. The Pacific Justice Institute testified that the bill has major flaws and is a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Institute staff attorney Matthew McReynolds believes Low and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are carelessly going ahead with the bill despite the likelihood it will be overturned in court. He said a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision which struck down a California law that required health care providers to give pregnant women information about family-planning and abortion services, throws Low’s measure in doubt.

“The Legislature has chosen to plow ahead and therefore we think it’s likely that this legislation will suffer a similar fate in the courts,” McReynolds said in a phone interview.

Yet the bill’s supporters are adamant that conversion therapy is not only dangerous and can cause permanent mental damage, it perpetuates the notion that homosexuality is a curable-mental illness.

“For far too long, LGBTQ Californians have been psychologically abused by sham therapists who are supposed to be caring for their emotional well-being,” Equality California executive director Rick Zbur said in a statement.


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