Faced with a likely legal defeat, the New York City Council is thinking about repealing an ordinance banning so-called “gay conversion therapy.”
The 2018 city law makes it illegal to provide professional services that “seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or seek to change a person’s gender identity to conform to the sex of such individual that was recorded at birth.” Veteran Orthodox Jewish psychotherapist Dovid Schwartz objected to the city intruding in his conversations with patients who had unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. He filed a federal lawsuit in January to block the ordinance.
Roger Brooks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Schwartz, said the city conceded in its court filings that no evidence could show Schwartz’s counseling harmed his patients. “The court was alive to and cared about the free speech and free exercise arguments,” Brooks said after a court hearing in June, adding he was “guardedly optimistic.”
That optimism was apparently warranted. The city’s retreat from the ordinance suggests its concern about the constitutionality of such severe restrictions on free speech. New York City Council member Corey Johnson, who is homosexual, introduced a measure to repeal the law on Thursday. “Obviously I didn’t want to repeal this,” he told The New York Times. “But the Supreme Court has become conservative; the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] 2nd Circuit, which oversees New York, has become more conservative.”
The full council first must approve the measure and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who is running for his party’s presidential nomination in 2020, then needs to sign it before the law is repealed.
But even then, therapists like Schwartz still have reasons to worry. A more narrowly crafted state law—one increasingly common among states and municipalities—still prohibits mental health professionals from trying to help shift the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors. Schwartz’s clients could attempt to sue for malpractice, consumer fraud, or breach of contract, though Brooks said they probably would not win since Schwartz never guarantees a patient any particular outcome.
Though pro-LGBT advocates often condemn “conversion therapy” methods like electroshock treatments, harassment, and physical abuse, Brooks said religious therapists simply want to engage in talk therapy, not other outdated and harmful methods. “It’s a bait-and-switch move,” Brooks said. “The talk is all about the horror of things, which, frankly, it’s not clear that anyone is doing these days in this country.”
Christian mental health professionals have uniformly distanced themselves from extreme forms of “reparative therapy,” a treatment concept that originated among secular psychologists. Heath Lambert, a pastor and the former executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, maintains that while homosexual behavior is sinful, conversion therapy is often ineffective and not Biblical. A person’s sexuality can change, he wrote, but not through invasive reparative therapies: “It is Jesus’ power to change that works in the Word and through the Biblical processes so that sin is defeated in the life of the believer.”