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Topics In the News
 
Bill Banning Reparative Therapy for Minors Passes California Legislature
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/31/12
Last updated on: 08/31/12
 
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California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez condemns sexual conversion therapy.

Both houses of the California Legislature have approved a bill that bans reparative therapy for persons under the age of 18. The measure now awaits a decision by Governor Jerry Brown to either sign it into law or to veto it. Although the bill may help prevent the abuse of young people, it has been so stripped down from its original version that it is difficult to be enthusiastic about its passage.

In its original version, which I discussed here, the bill, introduced by Senator Ted Lieu, would have banned California licensed mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts of any kind for a minor patient, regardless of a parent's willingness or desire to authorize participation in such programs, and would have required that adults seeking conversion therapy be warned of its unlikelihood of success and its potential harms.

In addition, the original version would have imposed fines of $5,000 or "actual damages, or statutory damages" if the client later determined that he or she had been harmed by the therapy or if the therapist had violated the ban.

However, the bill that has actually been passed is what Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has dubbed the "stripped-down" or "scaled-back" version. It maintains the ban on reparative therapy for minors, but does not require a consent form for adults. In lieu of fines or damages, it merely exposes licensed therapists to "discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider."

Moreover, the bill covers only state-licensed therapists, not clergy, "ex-gay groups," or self-anointed counselors or "life coaches."

The bill is now toothless, but it may have significant symbolic value for signaling the state's disapproval of reparative therapy, which has been determined by psychological associations to be dangerous. In addition, since anti-gay groups, ex-gay groups, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, among others, all vigorously oppose the bill, one cannot help but hope that the Governor signs it into law.

The reparative therapy movement is rooted in the work of 1960s psychologists such as Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, who claimed that homosexuality was both pathological and susceptible to change. When their position was repudiated by the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the category of "illness," they launched a counter-offensive against the views of the psychological and psychiatric establishment.

In 1992, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was established. Led by Joseph Nicolosi and Charles Socarides, and funded largely by right-wing religious and political organizations, NARTH is self-described as "a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to affirming a complementary, male-female model of gender and sexuality." It essentially espouses the view of homosexuality that was dominant in the 1950s and 1960s: that a homosexual "preference" results from a developmental problem, especially a child's failure to identify properly with adult figures of the same gender.

Sexual orientation change efforts pose serious health risks, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. For minors, who are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of misled parents who either do not know or do not believe that the practice is harmful, the risks of long-term mental and physical health consequences are particularly severe.

The American Psychiatric Association has characterized reparative therapy as dangerously misguided, issuing a statement saying that "the potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since the therapist's alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

When the bill banning reparative therapy for minors was debated in the Assembly, the openly gay Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez described sexual conversion therapy as "an abusive practice."

Speaker Pérez may be heard in the video below.

 
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