Two California courts this week issued conflicting opinions on the state’s new law aimed at protecting minors from so-called “sexual-change therapies” designed to counsel gay young people who want to be heterosexual.
A conservative legal-defense group, looking to overturn the new law, said Tuesday it would make an emergency appeal to the federal appellate court to keep the law, known as SB 1172, from going into effect Jan. 1.
California State Sen. Ted Lieu, working with state gay rights groups, successfully pushed SB 1172 through earlier this year, saying that “change” therapies were harmful to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and had been discredited by major mental health organizations.
The law says that “under no circumstances” shall a California mental-health provider engage in sexual-orientation change efforts (SOCE) with a child or teen younger than 18. Minors cannot receive counseling that seeks to change gender expressions, or eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions toward people of the same sex. Professionals who violate the law face discipline for unprofessional conduct. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law Sept. 29.
U.S. District Court Judge William B. Shubb issued an interim ruling Monday in Sacramento in favor of three plaintiffs challenging the law, putting the ban temporarily on hold for them and writing in his opinion that they had a strong chance of winning in a full trial. The new law, the judge said in his order, likely violates First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech because the state is establishing what kind of speech is permitted and prohibited.
Plaintiffs the Rev. Donald Welch, Dr. Anthony Duk and former SOCE client Aaron Bitzer “are likely to succeed on the merits” of their claims, Judge Shubb wrote.
However, the judge limited the scope of his order to the three men challenging the law, ruling that they may not litigate on the basis of the rights of others, such as parents and children. Thus, the ruling is restricted to the plaintiffs, not the general population.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represented Mr. Welch, Dr. Duk and Mr. Bitzer, said Judge Shubb’s ruling sent “a clear signal to all those who feel they can stifle religious freedom, free speech and the rights of parents without being contested.”
“We … are ready to fight this battle all the way to the [California] Supreme Court, if necessary,” he added.
But a day later, U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller blocked a second petition to bar the implementation of the law. The complaint was brought by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH); the American Association of Christian Counselors; three licensed mental-health professionals; and two families with teen sons currently in gay conversion treatments.
Ten professional mental-health organizations have policies and guidelines discouraging such therapies, Judge Mueller noted, and the state was within its rights both to oversee the therapy profession and ensure the protection of the “physical and psychological well-being” of minors.
In response, Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the opponents of the new law will file an emergency appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The minors we represent have not and do not want to act on their same-sex attractions. They are greatly benefiting from counseling,” said Mr. Staver. The law is politically motivated, interferes with counselors and clients, and permits clients to receive only one viewpoint on same-sex attraction, he said. “This is outrageous and offensive.”
The battle over gay conversion therapies last week reached Capitol Hill, when Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, introduced a resolution asking the House of Representatives to condemn sex-conversion therapies for minors. Six other members of Congress joined her in supporting the resolution.