In the last two weeks, at least four states have taken action on laws barring therapists from counseling individuals about their sexual orientation or gender identity, other than to encourage homosexuality or transgenderism.
Supporters of the laws argue the bans protect people from ineffective and abusive methods while contending sexual orientation and gender identity are fixed and efforts to change them result in repression and shame.
But critics—both pro-family groups and therapist organizations—say the laws ignore evidence that both sexuality and gender identity often change, violate the confidential relationship between a counselor and client, and deny parents and children the treatment of their choice.
Last week, Washington became the 10th state to pass a ban. The new state law labels as “unprofessional conduct” any therapy for minors with unwanted same-sex attraction that involves helping them embrace heterosexuality or any assistance given minors with gender dysphoria to embrace their biological gender. Providers accused of violating the law face fines and license revocation.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the measure March 28. At the signing ceremony, he claimed, “We are today prohibiting the abuse of our children.”
On Wednesday, Maryland lawmakers passed a similar bill on to Gov. Larry Hogan, who is expected to sign it.
“It’s not about religious values. It’s about basic human decency,” said Maryland Delegate Meagan Simonaire, who spoke in favor of the ban before the House vote. “It’s about the fact that it’s impossible to fix something that was never broken in the first place.”
But while the evidence of the harms of sexual orientation change efforts is often anecdotal—horror stories of shock therapy or “aversion” therapy, where physical pain is inflicted in association with certain feelings—there no evidence that a single practitioner today uses those methods, according to Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.
Sprigg testified against the Maryland bill last month. He said science clearly supports the idea that those who change their sexual orientation and gender identity often change back, especially minors. He cited a study by the nation’s leading expert on homosexuality in teens that found among boys who claimed exclusive same-sex romantic attraction, only 11 percent reported exclusive same-sex attraction one year later.
The National Task Force for Therapy Equality, an alliance of mental health professionals opposed to bans on sexual orientation change efforts, expressed opposition to the Maryland ban, citing research that no less than 75 percent of boys and girls who experience gender dysphoria come to accept their biological sex if they are supported and not pointed toward transition. Banning therapy for minors with gender dysphoria fast-tracks them toward social gender transition, potentially harmful hormone treatments, and irreversible surgeries.
For Christians, bans on therapy for those desiring to align their affections with God’s design also infringe on religious liberty. Despite this evidence, more states are considering similar and even more radical bans.
On Thursday, the Colorado House of Representatives passed a measure similar to Washington’s and Maryland’s. The bill is now before the Senate. And on Tuesday, California lawmakers passed the most expansive conversion therapy measure out of an Assembly committee. The law would label as fraudulent any view of sexuality or gender identity—expressed in books, conferences, or therapy—at odds with the LGBT agenda.
A growing number of organizations, churches, and experts are rallying against the measure, but California has a history of successfully pushing progressive laws. The bill is now before the Assembly Judiciary Committee for a hearing.