Oct 1, 2012

California Outlaws Therapies Aimed at Changing the Sexual Orientation of Minors

Denny BurkBy Denny Burk

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On Saturday, California became the first state to ban therapy practices that attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors. The new law states,

Jerry Brown

Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age… Any sexual orientation change efforts attempted on a patient under 18 years of age by a mental health provider shall be considered unprofessional conduct and shall subject a mental health provider to discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider.

This means that even if a minor wants help in battling same-sex desires, mental health professionals in California are not allowed to provide it. What is the rationale for this sweeping prohibition? There are at least two reasons cited in the law.

First, the law asserts the normativeness of homosexual orientation and behavior. It says,

Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.

The law states that there is nothing deficient about having homosexual desires or acting out homosexual behavior. So the terms here are irreducibly moral. California is acting out of a moral framework in enacting this law. The assumption is that homosexuality is a normal and healthy expression of human sexuality. It is no surprise then that the law not only forbids efforts to change a minor’s orientation, it also forbids any attempts to alter a minor’s homosexual behavior. What if a minor is homosexual and promiscuous? Can a mental health provider attempt to alter that behavior?

Second, the law states that efforts to change sexual orientation are both futile and harmful to young people. Thus the law says this:

California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.

This section of the law is particularly troubling. Even though this particular law only applies to mental health providers, why stop there? Now California is on the record saying that it has a “compelling interest” in protecting minors from attempts to alter same-sex attraction or behavior. Does that “compelling interest” mean that California would attempt to ban the efforts of other groups to alter sexual orientation? What about churches? What about Christian Schools that counsel against such behavior? What about a family seeking to adopt? I can think of any number of settings in which California might cite its “compelling interest” to protect minors from traditional sexual teaching and discipline. Will California be asserting its “compelling interest” in these areas as well? There is a slippery slope here with religious liberty implications.