Judge temporarily blocks California's ban on reparative therapy for minors

A federal judge in California on Monday issued a temporary injunction on the state's ban on controverial gay-to-straight "conversion" therapy, but limited the scope of his order to just the three providers who have appealed the ban.

U.S. District Judge William Shubb ruled that the ban Gov. Jerry Brown signed earlier this year could offend the ruling that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals who engage in “reparative” or “conversion” therapy.

“Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech,” Shubb wrote.

The judge disputed the California Legislature’s finding that trying to change young people’s sexual orientation puts them at risk for suicide or depression, saying it was based on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies.”

The ban, signed into law on Sept. 29 and scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, positioned California as the first state in the nation to prohibit 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.

Shubb signed a temporary injunction that prohibits the state from enforcing that ban against the three plaintiffs in the suit, pending trial.

The plaintiffs are represented by the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, which expressed confidence that the injunction could also apply to other therapists who choose to be added as plaintiffs.

Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that fights anti-LGBT religious extremism, said advocacy groups were "disappointed, but not deterred by the initial ruling by judge William Shubb."

"This is the beginning of a process that we feel confident will end in our favor. We have a powerful and incontrovertible case that reparative therapy is a dangerous practice that brazenly stands in direct opposition to standard mental health guidelines and procedures. It erroneously portrays homosexuality as a mental illness, gay people as mentally ill, and is consumer fraud by definition because its practitioners offer false hope and empty promises to their clients for a fee," said Besen, in a statement.

“Reparative therapy is social engineering with no medical basis and operates in an alternative reality. It is solely based on the anti-gay prejudices of primarily deeply religious therapists who cruelly project their unscientific views onto vulnerable clients at a considerable financial price, as well as a significant cost to mental health. Rather than do what is in the best interest of their clients, such unethical ‘therapists’ routinely treat their clients as guinea pigs and have them in engage in bizarre treatment regimens that would be laughable if they weren’t so psychologically harmful," added Besen.

Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), added:

We are confident that as the case progresses, it will be clear to the court that this law is fundamentally no different than many other laws that regulate health care professionals to protect patients. That is especially important in this case because the harms to minors are so serious, including suicide and severe depression.

Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has rejected these practices and warned that they are not only completely ineffective, but dangerous. California did the right thing by enacting this law, and we are confident the courts will find that it is not only constitutional, but vitally necessary. It is heartbreaking to think of the terrible damage that has been done to so many LGBT youth and their families, and of the lives that have been lost or destroyed because of these discredited practices.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Aaron Bitzer, who claims he formerly experienced same sex attractions before a successful round of "reparative therapy;" Donald Welsch, a minister and family therapist who operates a Christian counseling center in San Diego; and Dr. Anthony Duk, a psychiatrist.

Bitzer, who is studying to be an ex-gay therapist himself, claims that California's law prevents him from sharing his experience with minors experiencing the same thoughts.

The measure -- Calif. Senate Bill 1172 -- was authored by state Sen. Ted Lieu and sponsored by Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gaylesta, Courage Campaign, Lambda Legal, and Mental Health America of Northern California, and supported by dozens of organizations including the California Psychological Association, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the California Division of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

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