SCOTUS lets California's ban on "ex-gay therapy" to remain legal

WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review a 2013 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding California’s Senate Bill 1172, a law that prohibits licensed counselors and therapists from engaging in dangerous practices to try to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of LGBT children.

Known as “conversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” the practices have been condemned by medical and mental health organizations across the country because they are known to lead to extreme depression and suicide.

The Supreme Court’s decision today clears the way for enforcement of California’s law — signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2012 and the first of its kind in the nation — that provides that state-licensed therapists who engage in the prohibited practices with minor patients may be subject to professional discipline by California licensing authorities.

The constitutionality of the California law was challenged in October 2012 in two lawsuits filed by anti-LGBT groups, primarily representing therapists who engage in the prohibited practices.

In fall 2012, Equality California filed a successful motion to intervene in one of the lawsuits to defend the law alongside California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who represents the State of California defendants. Equality California is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.

On Aug. 29, 2013, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the law, ruling that the plaintiffs in two legal challenges could not succeed on their claim that the law infringes the free speech rights of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices.

The full Ninth Circuit court declined to further review that decision, and the plaintiffs in the two lawsuits then asked the Supreme Court to review the cases. The Supreme Court denied those requests today, meaning that the Ninth Circuit panel’s decision upholding the law will be the final decision on the plaintiffs’ free-speech claims and the California law may be enforced.

Senate Bill 1172 was authored by Senator Ted Lieu and sponsored by NCLR, Equality California, 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.

NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said: “This life-saving law has cleared the final hurdle and will now protect California youth from harmful practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health organizations. This important legislation will permanently improve the health and well-being of California’s most vulnerable LGBT young people. We look forward to more states joining California and New Jersey in preventing state-licensed therapists from engaging in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide.”

Added Equality California Executive Director-Elect Rick Zbur: “The Supreme Court’s decision to let Senate Bill 1172 protect our LGBT youth is a major step forward for California and our nation. We are proud to live in the first state to protect young people from the lifelong damage caused by these horrific practices. We thank Sen. Ted Lieu for authoring this bill, Speaker Emeritus John A. Pérez for his bold leadership in helping to get the law passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown for signing it into law.”

NCLR recently launched #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy, a national effort aimed at protecting LGBT kids from conversion therapy and ending the practice across the country in five years.

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