By G. A. Fowler
From the Wall Street Journal
California’s state legislature on Thursday passed the nation’s first law banning professional psychological therapy aimed at turning gay and lesbian youth straight.
The legislation, which will next go to Gov. Jerry Brown for review, prevents licensed psychologists and therapists from seeking to change the sexual orientation of children under 18.
The practice, called gay-conversion therapy or reparative therapy, hits on a sensitive cultural issue in an election year during which gay rights have emerged as a flashpoint in some states. California’s legislation would apply only to licensed psychologists and professional therapists, not to counseling offered by religious or community groups.
California state Sen. Ted W. Lieu, the bill’s author, said the conversion treatments were tantamount to child abuse. “These attempts are quackery, and this kind of psychological abuse of children must stop,” said Mr. Lieu, a Democrat.
He cited a 2009 report by the American Psychological Association that gay-conversion therapy often fails, as well as anecdotal evidence that it can lead to depression and even suicide.
Clinton Anderson, associate director of APA’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues office, said that parents and young people should avoid such therapies. While there is no evidence to support the conclusion they cause suicide, the fact that the therapies often fail to work can lead people to lose self esteem. “People report that the therapies exacerbate their own struggles and distress,” he said.
Opponents of the law, including the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, say there is no scientific basis for banning such therapies. In a statement posted on the nonprofit group’s website this month, member Christopher Rosik, a psychologist, said that Mr. Lieu’s claims represented “rhetoric, not research,” and that the legislation had a “clear intent to intimidate therapists and supplant the rights of parents.”
The California Psychological Association initially opposed the bill, citing concern about the intrusion of the legislature into clinical practice, as well as about what it called “overly broad” definitions of efforts to change sexual orientation. But the group, along with other mental-health organizations, decided to back the bill after Mr. Lieu adjusted its language.
San Francisco resident Peter Drake, who underwent weekly gay-conversion therapy from 2001 to 2004, testified before the legislature earlier this year that it didn’t work.
“It was an extremely painful experience,” said Mr. Drake, 55 years old, who now runs a nonprofit called the COIL Foundation that fights discrimination against gays and lesbians. “I ended up getting more and more depressed,” he added.
He stopped going and switched to traditional therapy instead, eventually coming out to his wife of 28 years. “I consider this reparative therapy to be malpractice,” he said.
Gov. Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill, veto it or allow its protections to take effect without his signature on Jan. 1. A spokesman for his office said, “We generally do not comment on legislation before the governor takes action.”