The California Assembly on Friday temporarily shelved a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” for homosexual and transgender adults. Opponents of Assembly Bill 2943 thanked its author, openly gay Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low, for withdrawing the bill that threatened Californians’ free speech and religious liberty rights.
After passing easily in both chambers, the bill needed only one final vote in the Assembly before going to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. But Low said productive conversations with religious leaders convinced him more discussion was needed.
The reprieve may be short-lived—Low, determined to end what he called the “fraudulent practice of conversion therapy,” promised to resurrect it.
“I am committed to continuing to work towards creating a policy that best protects and celebrates the identities of LGBT Californians,” Low said in a statement on his legislative website.
Crafted as an amendment to the state’s consumer protection law, AB 2943 would have made advertising or providing services for “sexual orientation change efforts” fraudulent business practices, leaving therapists open to lawsuits. Volunteer counselors, like pastors, were not subject to the law.
“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,” said Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council.
While the bill remains inactive, Low told the Los Angeles Times he wanted to “engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations” to craft his legislation. Ironically, Low’s bill would have restricted therapist-client relationships and conversations.
During a June Senate committee hearing, former lesbian, gay, and transgender Californians bristled at the “fraudulent” label describing their transformed lives.
Elizabeth Woning, co-founder of the Christian Equipped to Love ministry, told senators she lived openly as a lesbian while in seminary and, as a pastor, advanced the gay-affirming church movement. But a perspective-altering “encounter with Jesus,” in addition to unaddressed sexual abuse as a child and young adult, pressed Woning into therapy.
“None of the secular counseling I received removed the trauma of those experiences,” she said. “By affirming my sexuality as a lesbian, that counseling never delved under the surface of judgments and agreements that empowered the comfort I felt in the arms of another woman. My faith did.”
By blocking access to goods and services that question sexuality, Woning told senators, “Women with #MeToo experiences such as mine may never find resolution.”
The Senate passed an amended version of the bill that removed a ban on goods, including books, that promoted sexual orientation change before sending it back to the Assembly on Aug. 16 for a final vote. But the bill languished in the Assembly for two weeks before Low withdrew it Friday.
AB 2943 opponents such as Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, believe Low recognized the bill would not pass constitutional scrutiny since it held therapists’ “professional speech” in low regard. Dacus and other attorneys were prepared to take the state of California to court if AB 2943 became law.
While grateful for the reprieve, Dacus said Low’s commitment to advancing the counseling ban was disconcerting.
The bill threatened free speech and religious exercise rights, and any reworking of the measure must not repeat the same mistakes, Dacus said, adding that members of the California legislative LGBT caucus must appreciate that not all same-sex attracted Californians embrace the gay, lesbian, or transgender identity.
“If we can reach that point, then we can come to real, long-term resolutions when it comes to mutual respect and protection of everyone’s rights,” Dacus said.