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Fourth Circuit Tosses Suit Over Maryland Ban on Conversion Therapy

The federal appeals court rejected a Maryland gay conversion therapist’s First Amendment challenge to the state’s ban on such treatment for children because he sued the wrong people.

(CN) — In a ruling released Tuesday, the Fourth Circuit rejected on procedural grounds a Maryland counselor’s challenge to the state’s ban on treating minors with gay conversion therapy.

Christopher Doyle, a professional counselor in Maryland, sued the state's governor and attorney general, alleging the ban violates his First Amendment rights by barring him from practicing “talk therapy” in attempts to “reduce his minor clients’ same-sex attractions.”

In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly passed and the governor signed into law the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which prohibits a mental health or child care practitioner from “engaging in conversion therapy with an individual who is a minor.”

Those who are found to be in violation of the act may be disciplined by their certifying or licensing board. 

Doyle’s lawsuit over the ban names as defendants the state’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.

"But Doyle sued the wrong defendants,” U.S. Circuit Judge Julius Richardson wrote in a 12-page opinion on Tuesday, nothing neither the governor nor the attorney general have a close enough connection to enforcing the 2018 law.

“So because of Doyle’s choice of defendants, we may not consider the interesting First Amendment issues he raises,” wrote Richardson, a Donald Trump appointee.

Doyle had argued that there is an exception to their immunity in federal court, but the panel on Tuesday ruled otherwise. 

Reversing the lower court, the Fourth Circuit panel rejected Doyle's argument that there is an exception to the two state officials' immunity from suit in federal court.

“Maryland’s Governor and Attorney General have no control over the potential enforcement actions that could be brought against him. And while Doyle requests leave to amend his complaint, we leave that question to the district court,” the ruling states.

U.S. Circuit Judges Paul Niemeyer, a George H.W. Bush appointee, and Diana Motz, appointed by Bill Clinton, joined in Tuesday’s unanimous decision. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, all major medical associations reject the notion of sexual orientation conversion therapy. 

That includes the APA, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of Social Workers. 

Each have asserted that “homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured.’”

“Despite the general consensus of major medical, health and mental health professions that both heterosexuality and homosexuality are normal expressions of human sexuality, efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy have been adopted by some political and religious organizations and aggressively promoted to the public,” the APA says in a condemnation of this type of treatment on its website

It adds that “such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

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