California Democrat Shelves Bill to Ban Adult Sexual Orientation Counseling

Transgender, intergender, LGBT -- the vocabulary of gender identity is evolving as the old dividing line between the sexes is increasingly being called into question

A gay California Democrat assemblyman has pulled the bill he authored to ban paid counseling services for adults who are troubled by same-sex attraction or gender identity issues. His decision comes after listening to the concerns of faith groups.

AB 2943, a measure introduced by Assemblyman Evan Low, chairman of the state’s legislative LGBTQ caucus, not only would have banned so-called “conversion therapy” from any adult who wished to change an unwanted sexual orientation or gender identity, but also would have declared the sale of such services a “deceptive business practice,” leaving therapists open to lawsuits.

California banned such therapy for minors in 2012, and Low’s bill would have expanded the ban so that therapists who treated adult patients who wanted to explore discomfort with sexual or gender identity issues would be in violation of the law.

When his bill drew attacks from faith groups, Low spoke to multiple members of the clergy across the state, making the decision to pull the legislation before final approval in the Assembly – which it would have easily secured.

“I knew this was an emotionally charged issue, so I spent the past few months traveling up and down the state meeting with a wide variety of faith leaders,” Low explained in a statement on his website.

“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”

California Family Council opposed the bill when lawmakers told churches and those with faith beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender that it could lead to lawsuits.

“This bill attacks the freedom of Christians … to find the services and resources from counselors, schools, and faith-based organizations that help them live out their biblical convictions regarding sexual behavior and gender identity,” the group stated on its website. “Shouldn’t these people have the freedom to find true joy by embracing and living out their faith without government persecution?”

While “conversion therapy,” specifically, is not widely practiced, the bill could prevent someone who wished to explore his or her same-sex attraction from finding a therapist for treatment.

Jonathan Keller, president of California Family Council, expressed his gratitude to Low for pulling the bill.

“People of faith across California and around the nation care deeply about our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who identify as LGBTQ,” Keller said in a statement. “AB 2943 would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation.”

Keller said Low’s outreach to the faith community and those who have been helped by sexual orientation and gender counseling was unprecedented.

“We are inexpressibly grateful to Assemblymember Low for meeting personally with faith leaders over the last several months and sincerely listening to our concerns,” he said. “Today is also a testament to the courageous counselors, ministry leaders, pastors, and OnceGay individuals who bravely shared their personal stories, ensuring that these vital perspectives were not overlooked in the legislative process.”

Arthur Schaper, organization director and state chapter director of MassResistance, which is an international pro-family organization, said his group visited lawmakers, made phone calls, and contacted churches to encourage their involvement.

“Many sources said that this could not be done,” he added. “Most pro-family groups had conceded that this legislation would pass. MassResistance activists remained undeterred.”

Though 14 states have passed such a ban on counseling children with sexual orientation and gender issues, a bill to ban the counseling died in Massachusetts in early August when an amendment that was added led to its demise. The provision called for such therapy to be considered child abuse and would thus have required mandated reporters to notify Child Protective Services if they had learned children were in treatment that did not immediately affirm that they are gay or transgendered.

The addition of the controversial amendment caused the state Senate to pass a version without the child abuse provision – but only after the deadline for adjournment of both the state House and Senate.

Massachusetts Family Institute’s Andrew Beckwith explained, “[R]adical LGBT activists in the Senate demanded that the child abuse provision be put back in, which would have sent the bill back to the House to be voted on again.”

Beckwith said he was “relieved to see that parents and children will continue to have the freedom to seek the counseling they choose” in Massachusetts.

“This bill was a clearly unconstitutional violation of the rights of parents and the freedom of speech,” he added.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine recently vetoed a bill that would have banned therapists in his state from working with children who are uncomfortable with same-sex attraction or have gender identity issues.

The governor wrote that mental health professionals are already regulated by licensure requirements, and he rejected the notion that they require regulation beyond what is already mandated.

LePage observed that while he strongly agrees that adolescents should not be physically or mentally abused by adults if they share concerns about their sexuality with them, the bill could open up a mental health professional to a malpractice issue even over a simple conversation about sexual orientation or gender initiated by the patient himself.

The governor wrote:

This is so broad that licensed professionals would be prohibited from counseling an individual even at the individual’s own request. We should not prohibit professionals from counseling an individual even at the individual’s own request. We should not prohibit professionals from providing their expertise to those who seek it for their own personal and basic questions such as, “How do I deal with these feelings I am experiencing?”

LePage also went on to voice his concerns that such a bill might be interpreted as a “threat to religious liberty.”

“Parents have the right to seek counsel and treatment for their children from professionals who do not oppose the parents’ own religious beliefs,” he asserted. “Because the standard of practice for these professionals already prohibits any practice or therapy that would amount to physical or mental abuse, what we are really trying to regulate are the private, consultative conversations between a licensed provider and a client.”


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