California’s Ban on ‘Sexual Orientation Therapy’ to Face Legal Challenges

Pete Winn | October 1, 2012 | 7:10pm EDT
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Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) (AP photo)

( - Religious and civil rights law groups say they are headed to federal court to try to stop a new California law that bars licensed counselors and therapists – even if they are pastors, priests or rabbis -- from helping anyone under 18 to change their sexual orientation.

“This unprecedented bill is outrageously unconstitutional,” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, told from his offices in Sacramento.

Pacific Justice Institute is one of several conservative legal groups preparing  to file legal challenges in federal district court to SB 1172, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Saturday.

The law states: “Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age, regardless of the willingness of a patient, patient's parent, guardian, conservator, or other person to authorize such efforts.”

Dacus says the law violates freedom of speech, the right of parents to direct the upbringing of children – and several other basic constitutional rights.

“It is an outrageous violation of the civil rights of young people who struggle with same-sex attraction, the right of parents to care for their children, as well as the rights of counselors – even clergy – who will be directly prohibited from giving counseling which is in anyway reparative in nature with regard to same-sex attractions,” Dacus said.

Gov. Brown, in signing the bill into law, said that reparative therapy, which practitioners say helps young people deal with unwanted same-sex attraction by bringing them back into heterosexuality “will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu of Encino, said the law was needed because attempts to change sexual orientation of young people amount to “psychological child abuse.”

“No one should stand idly by while children are being psychological abused, and anyone who forces a child to try to change their sexual orientation must understand this is unacceptable,” Lieu said in a statement Sunday.

But Mathew Staver, president of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, says the law will harm children, stress families, and place counselors in an impossible bind.

“We are filing on behalf of mental health professionals who find themselves in a catch-22,” Staver said.

“This bill and the ethical codes of all of the licensing boards in California are on an inevitable collision course,” he added. “The licenses of countless mental health professionals hang in the balance.”

Staver said therapists have an ethical obligation to help clients deal with conflict.

“If a client is experiencing conflict between religious beliefs and same-sex attractions and wants to prioritize those beliefs over such attractions, the counselor is ethically obligated to directly help or refer for help,” Staver said. “Under this law, the counselor will be forced to disregard the client’s religious beliefs or change them.

“A number of minors who have struggled with same-sex attraction have been able to reduce or eliminate the stress and conflicts in their lives by receiving counseling of their choice which best meets their needs and religious convictions,” Staver added.

Dacus, meanwhile, pointed out that the law would apply to anyone licensed by the state as a counselor.

“It also directly affects school counselors who don’t want to have to encourage a young 14 or 15-year-old boy or girl to have to solidify their fears of having an unwanted same-sex orientation or attraction, and even applies to ministers, priests and rabbis who are also professional counselors.”

Homosexual activists say attempts to change sexual-orientation produces depression, guilt, hopelessness, shame, suicide, self-hatred, decreased self-esteem and other feelings.

“Efforts to change minors’ sexual orientation are not therapy, they are the relics of prejudice and abuse that have inflicted untold harm on young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians,” Clarissa Filgioun, president of the activist group Equality California, said in a statement.

But Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said charges that “reparative therapy” harms clients are simply false.

“The fact is, there is an abundance of evidence that people can and do change their sexual orientation as a result of therapies like this,” Sprigg told, “and there is no evidence, other than purely anecdotal evidence, that these therapies cause any harm whatsoever.

The law, unless blocked by a court, will take effect Jan. 1. It was supported by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Psychological Association. The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, which initially opposed the bill, also approved the legislation.

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