CA Assembly Passes Bill Banning Gay Conversion Therapy, Inviting First Amendment Challenge

A vietnamese man dances as he holds a rainbow flag during the fourth gay pride parade on August 2, 2015 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Hundreds of demonstrators march through the streets of the Vietnamese capital urging an end to discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as homosexuality …
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Newport Beach, CA

The California State Assembly passed a bill last Thursday that could make selling a book, or giving a paid speech, or preaching a sermon suggesting that gay people change their lifestyle illegal as a deceptive business practice.

The bill, AB 2943, inserts provisions into the state’s Business and Professions Code to the effect that “Advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” is a deceptive business practice subject to fines and penalties.

Equality California and the Trevor Project, which backed AB 2943, together with sponsor Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose), hailed the bipartisan 50-14 vote as providing the nation’s first child and adult ban on widely discredited “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” which attempts to change of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur issued a press release stating: “Once again, California legislators sent a clear, bipartisan message to the LGBTQ community across our state and around the world: ‘You belong.’ We look forward to the day when all LGBTQ Californians are protected from these dangerous, fraudulent practices.”

But the Independent Institute’s William Watkins warned that the bill is a direct attack on the free exercise of religion, because under California case law’s “plain meaning rule,” AB 2943 could  “prohibit a bookstore from selling a book in which a Christian author urges people to repent of sexual immorality, which he identifies as including homosexuality and to take their strength in the sacrificial love of Christ.” (Romans 1:24-26)

Watkins added that the law also states: “’Sexual orientation change efforts’ means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

Watkins believes that the courts could strike down the law as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, because “plain and ordinary” meaning of the words used in the new law will likely lead to a demand to remove all books from libraries and bookstores that offer “orthodox Christian teaching on human sexuality.”

California Assembly and Republican candidate for governor Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) went on the conservative One America television network’s Liz Wheeler show on Thursday before the Assembly vote to call AB-2943 a smoke screen for an outright California ban of the Bible.

The video went viral, with over 1.4 million shares in the first 24 hours.

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the California State Senate has not yet passed the bill, and hence it is not yet eligible to proceed to the governor for signature.

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