Nine months ago, when writing about “conversion therapy,” I expressed my doubts about the effectiveness of this treatment, designed to “cure” people like us of our longings for same-sex intimacy and affection.
Despite those doubts, I believe, as I then wrote that, in a free society, “Christian groups have every right to set up . . . companies [offering such therapy, provided they do not coerce anyone to enter treatment.” Even though in a subsequent post, I expressed the intention to address the issue of “coercion“, I have yet to do so. Given that many of those “coerced” to enter such treatment are minors, the issue is not as simple as it might first appear; should the state intervene to prevent this coercion, it would then be acting in loco parentis.
As a reader said when we were discussing the issue on Facebook, “It does get hairy for minors.” On the one hand, I very much want to prevent any teen from experiencing some of the extreme treatments in such programs. On the other, I fear the slippery slope created by any legislation removing parents’ rights to raise their own children. Will the state then try to prevent parents from home-schooling their children or learning to hunt?
At the LA Weekly, Patrick McDonald writes about a bill pending before the California legislature to allow teens to opt out of therapies their parents choose;
Written by California State Senator Ted Lieu and sponsored by the gay rights group Equality California, Senate Bill 1172 would force psychotherapists to tell gay patients about the mental and physical harms of undertaking any so-called “gay therapies.” Therapists would also need the consent of a patient before moving forward with their dangerous work.
Most importantly, the bill seeks to stop all gay therapies of minors, regardless of the wishes of his or her parents. So you have to be at least 18 years old and sign off on treatment before a whacked-out therapist can do anything to you.
He goes on to detail some of the treatments to which young people have been subject. The text of the legislation is here. Eugene Volokh did a quick post, without commentary on the legislation, leaving it to his readers to engage in a spirited exchange on the matter. (Well worth your time and I only got through the first page, skimming a good number.)
My libertarian inclination is to oppose this as the state meddling in affairs where it should not. It does raise some serious First Amendment (“free exercise” clause) issues. And it may not end the matter. If the bill passes, religious may just give “conversion therapy” a new name, calling it “religious studies” or some such.
Having read, however, about the extreme nature of some of these treatments, I begin to wonder if this may be one of the few areas where state intervention is necessary. (UPDATE: See e.g., the point Rattlesnake makes about beating in his comment.)
I have read the bill just once and am printing it out for further perusal. Some sections aren’t entirely clear. (It is in bad need of an edit and possibly some amendments.)
Will try to think more on this over the weekend. Do encourage you to comment in the spirit of the post, that of a man skeptical of intrusive legislation, fearful of slippery slopes eroding parental rights and aware how bad therapy in adolescence can complicate the challenges young people face at that difficult age.
FROM THE COMMENTS: Eric echoes my concerns and offers a helpful personal anecdote:
I am usually not a fan of anything that undermines parental authority. Parents are charged with giving children a proper upbringing and instilling important values.
That said there are limits to this principle. Can a Christian Scientist refuse treatment for a cancer ridden minor? Can a Jehovahs witness deny a blood transfusion for their son or daughter? In each of these cases the government can step in and force action on behalf of the minor.
Unlike those cases, here – the government is not forcing an action, instead it is prohibiting a harmful action against a minor. I’m generally of the persuasion that it takes much more evidence to ensure the force of action, rather than prohibition of action. Therefore the risk of action – and downstream consequences – seem to outweigh the risk of allowing the individual to persue treatment as a legal adult.
I like this legislation simply because it allows an adult to make the final say on his or her mental health.
I specifically did not come out before 18 so I did not have to go through reparative church therapy (which I know I would
Have been forced to) – my parents gave me the number and offered to pay once I wasn’t a dependent and felt safe to come out.
I don’t want to not give children the blind eye because they weren’t ‘smart enough’ to keep their mouths shut.
At the same time, I don’t want to undermine parental authority – but feel the danger to a minor outweighs this right.
ALSO FROM THE COMMENTS: Rattlesnake offers:
I will offer a non-libertarian perspective… I speak only generally, but I tend to favour strong law enforcement as being necessary to uphold rights. If it can be demonstrated that this conversion therapy is harmful (that is, if conversion therapy is similar to abuse, or something), then I see no problem in banning it for minors. Also, just because parents can’t beat their kids, doesn’t remove their right to parent them (I am not saying conversion therapy is equivalent to beating). I don’t fear a slippery slope, because my conclusion comes from the same principle as laws that ban physical assault (under the assumption that conversion therapy is bad enough to warrant a ban, which I don’t know).
So far our readers have been commenting in the spirit in which the post was offered. Keep ’em coming!
AND EVEN MORE FROM THE COMMENTS: V the K offers a different perspective:
Basically, what the activists behind this legislation are saying is that if a thirteen year old kid says, “I’m attracted to my same sex and I don’t want to be. May I get some therapy,” the state will say “No, you can’t. You are too young to decide such things, so we assume your parents are coercing you.” But if another thirteen year old says, “I don’t like being the sex I am. Can I begin having toxic chemicals injected into my body so that it can eventually be rendered into a crude dysfunctional facsimile of the opposite sex,” the state says, “Sure, go ahead, and we’re very proud of you for making this brave decision.”
That is why the state should stay the hell out of such personal decisions.