Earlier this month, a Washington conversion therapy ban made it the 10th U.S. state to outlaw the practice, a pseudo-scientific form of psychological abuse that claims to convert LGBTQ individuals into cisgender heterosexuals. Religious opponents of conversion therapy bans say they impede the right to religious freedom and free speech, but does that argument hold water?
The courts don’t seem to think so.
To be clear, a majority of these conversion therapy bans rest on the idea that conversion or reparative therapy is a form of fraud because the idea that you can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity has no basis in science. In fact, almost every major psychological association in existence condemns the practice as a form of psychological torture.
As such, bans like the Washington conversion therapy ban make it a crime for state-licensed mental health counselors (including psychologists and social workers), to perform conversion therapy on any patients under the age of 18. If they do so, they could be prosecuted for “unlawful conduct,” get fined thousands of dollars and possibly lose their counseling licenses.
Religious practitioners of ex-gay therapy say that since the therapy primarily involves talking, the bans violate their free speech. Furthermore, they say the conversion therapy bans violate the rights of licensed religious counselors to share their religious views and beliefs with clients.
In 2014, a California court refused a challenge to the statewide conversion therapy ban, stating the ban doesn’t apply to clergy members when carrying out their clerical duties, and it only applies to “conduct within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.”
Furthermore, the court said “the state had an interest in banning professional treatments it considered harmful,” especially since the treatments typically target youth.
And the California court isn’t the only court to state this.
In May 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal challenging California’s ban on “gay conversion therapy.” It was the second appeal against conversion bans the Supreme Court has turned away in the past three years. (It had batted away a challenge to New Jersey’s conversion therapy ban in 2015.)
As of 2017, 15 additional states have filed bills to ban conversion therapy into state legislatures.
In April 2017, Democratic congress members Ted Lieu of California, Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey submitted the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would ban reparative therapy nationwide on the basis of its fraudulent claims.
But in an attempt to circumvent these bans, religious mental health practitioners are trying to re-brand conversion therapy as ” Christian counseling,” an intentionally vague term that makes homosexuality sound like more of a spiritual issue rather than psychological one.
But even if conservative, anti-gay houses of worship try to move ex-gay therapy out of the public eye behind closed doors, any state-licensed medical professional caught practicing it can still be prosecuted.
Despite religious protests, conversion therapy remains legal in 40 states. And in all 50 states, it’s still totally legal to send LGBT kids to abusive work camps that promise to “straighten out” troubled queer youth. These private commercial juvenile reform facilities get around conversion therapy bans by advertising themselves as handling “adolescent discipline problems” and not affiliating themselves with licensed mental health professionals.
A similar 2008 federal government review of these camps “uncovered 28 deaths and more than 1,500 reported incidents of abuse.”
And as long as the United States allows harmful ex-gay therapy to continue unopposed, evangelicals can export it to other continents — using rape, beatings, forced medications, electroshock therapy, solitary confinement and other forms of torture — and pointing to its legality in America as proof of its “success.”
What do you think of the recent Washington conversion therapy ban? Sound off in the comments.
Featured image by Robert Dodge via iStock