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Psychotherapy to Make Gay Teens Straight is Banned

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on October 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's sometimes billed as a "cure" for homosexuality: psychotherapy that purports to turn gay teenagers straight. But beginning in 2013, it'll be unlawful in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law SB 1172, which prohibits so-called "gay conversion" therapy for anyone under 18, the Associated Press reports. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

The bill's author, state Sen. Ted Lieu, derided those therapy efforts as psychological abuse. Gov. Brown agreed, saying in a statement that "gay conversion" had "no basis in science or medicine and ... will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery."

Many mental-health organizations supported the bill. They cited harmful effects of "gay conversion" therapy such as higher risks of depression and suicide.

But critics argued the bill was "legislative overreach" that would get in the way of a parent's right to treat her own child for psychological issues such as gender confusion, the AP reports.

At least one conservative group, the Pacific Justice Institute, vowed to file a lawsuit to stop Lieu's law from taking effect. The law would impede psychotherapists' free-speech rights, along with patients' rights to get access to information, the group's lawyer told the Los Angeles Times.

That argument is similar to free-speech arguments that are often raised with regard to abortion laws. In general, when the government limits a fundamental right like what a person can and cannot say, it must have a compelling reason to do so.

SB 1172 explicitly asserts such a reason: "California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors ... and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts," the bill states.

Under the new law, any "sexual orientation change efforts" on a patient under 18 constitutes "unprofessional conduct" by a mental-health provider such as a therapist or psychiatrist.

Unprofessional conduct is grounds for discipline by the mental-health provider's licensing entity. For example, for a doctor, it can lead the state's Medical Board to order probation or additional training, or even to revoke a doctor's license to practice medicine.

The original bill would also have required therapists to warn adult patients about the risks and limitations of "gay conversion" therapy. But that provision was dropped from the version that will take effect in 2013, the AP reports.

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