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Legislation needed to stop coercive “conversion therapy”?

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.



  1. One day soon there will be a fantastic Orwellian science fiction movie based upon sexual orientation and a heavy handed central government.

    That gives me an idea! The author of the bill should use Clockwork Orange as an example – didn’t they try repairative therapy on Alex?

    Comment by Geena — April 27, 2012 @ 7:49 pm - April 27, 2012

  2. Just to be clear, the trauma I experienced at that time in my life was 1) my headmaster outing me to my parents and 2) the possibility of losing the love and respect of my parents.

    I got over number one and never lost number two.

    Had I been brought up in say a Pentecostal faith with all the attending features, i.e. glossanalia etc, perhaps all the discussion of demonic possession and lake of fire drama could have indeed been traumatic. However as an Episcopal youth, I had no source of reference for that blather.

    Rusty, I did not know the suicide boy and I don’t know for sure if the program led to his suicide or not. It sure could have. But I need for you to know that my life’s trajectory would not be different had I stayed the other 2 or so weeks remaining. I also need to state clearly that my parents sent me there out of love and concern for my well being.

    Heliotrope, I am grateful to be remembered in one’s prayers, so thank you. My health is good and I am at peace. Just so you know, the program I took part in was ran by the SBC.

    Reparative therapy centers is not, as far as I can tell, a growth industry. Not for minors anyway.

    Comment by David in N.O. — April 27, 2012 @ 8:05 pm - April 27, 2012

  3. Why are we pressuring preadults to decide what kind of person they are? Is there a way we can let them view the world and their place in it with time to make their own decision and the freedom to change their mind? Must we force them to choose while in kindergarten?

    Comment by Richard Bell — April 27, 2012 @ 8:09 pm - April 27, 2012

  4. Thanks for the clarification David. Have a great weekend.

    Oh, do you think, since you mentioned, that the suicide of the young man might have left your parent’s with a different appreciation of you.

    Having worked with youth who have had similar experiences and intra-family conflict, many parents have always expressed appreciation for my support of their child. I know that many parent’s have (had) been acting with love and good intentions.

    But like I posited before. . .state usurping parental rights vs. protecting minors from irreparable harm?

    Comment by rusty — April 27, 2012 @ 8:22 pm - April 27, 2012

  5. Decide what? Choose what? Your orientation is what it is, pre-adult. Richard Bell, how I wish, when I became aware of my same sex attraction, that I knew I had a future that would include love and family! Instead all I had was fear! I know things are better now and will continue to get better. But do you honestly believe heterosexual pre-adults wait until they are past the age of majority to “decide” or “choose”?

    Comment by David in N.O. — April 27, 2012 @ 8:23 pm - April 27, 2012

  6. Oh, do you think, since you mentioned, that the suicide of the young man might have left your parent’s with a different appreciation of you.

    That question was never asked and because I lost both my parents 4 years ago, I won’t ever know for sure, but I’m not worried about it.

    Comment by David in New Orleans — April 27, 2012 @ 9:21 pm - April 27, 2012

  7. NTD, you’re right. Prohibition wasn’t a cause of the right at its birth, but of the strong Protestant instincts of the country.

    Suzy B may have supported prohibition, but that was not her main cause. It was women’s suffrage. The leaders of the women’s suffrage movement latched onto the older prohibition / temperance movement as a means to gain even more support for their cause. Frances Willard, a Methodists, was the first strong leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, joined with Susan B because she realized that if women could vote, that would make the idea of Prohibition a reality. Both camps also saw prohibition as a way to lessen the violence suffered at the hands of drunken husbands, something for which there were laws to remedy.

    Then came the Anti-Saloon League. That came to be much more powerful than the WCTU. Though the ASL proclaimed to be politically neutral, having the support of old school Democrat William Jennings Bryant, that party was changing. German Lutheran forbears, Episcopalians, and Catholics all opposed prohibition in America because the parishioners were dominated by European immigrant to this country, from cultures that drank as a way of life. As the big city Democrat machines became dominated with those very immigrants who were against prohibition, The Republican party became the more staunch supporter of the policy. It was the Republican party that held onto the tenants of Prohibition well into the late 1920’s and early 30’s, even though it had proved to be a failure.

    BTW, a prohibition party currently exists. Here is the platform. Look familiar?

    Comment by Sonicfrog — April 27, 2012 @ 9:34 pm - April 27, 2012

  8. You don’t like the idea of reparative therapy. Therefore, you want it outlawed.


    I knew you’d get that wrong.

    If it is to be banned, which I didn’t advocate, it should be on the basis of the untenable techniques used AND coupled with the fact that it doesn’t work anyway. If an informed adult, knowing what they are about to subject themselves to, wants to go ahead and spend their money on this quackery… I feel sad for them. But if this is what they think have to do, if they want to still waist their money….

    Speaking of the techniques, you wrote this:

    :People only change when they want to change. If they need help, a strong family or reliable friends will do more for them than a paid shrink.

    If all that was involved was the kid talking to a shrink, we wouldn’t have a quarrel here.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — April 27, 2012 @ 9:47 pm - April 27, 2012

  9. One more note about prohibition. Though it can’t be considered purely a Conservative hatched idea, Conservatives have non-the-less certainly embraced with fierce conviction.

    Of course, so has the idiot Obama. I think his recently renewed War on Pot is nothing more than slop fed to the Police unions to give them something to do and make the law and order faction of his party happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets re-elected, the day after he again puts on kid gloves on that issue.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — April 27, 2012 @ 10:00 pm - April 27, 2012

  10. 55.”Decide what? Choose what? Your orientation is what it is, pre-adult. Richard Bell, how I wish, when I became aware of my same sex attraction, that I knew I had a future that would include love and family!”

    My appology, David. The point I was trying to make is, what difference should orrientation make for minors that are not even mature enough to know what orientation is? Seems to me, if we are going to put “pressure” on minors, that we should be holding up an ideal of abstinence for minors regardless of orientation. A “pressure” that I think all parents could agree about.

    Comment by Richard Bell — April 27, 2012 @ 10:24 pm - April 27, 2012

  11. I honestly don’t know whether SF is deliberately missing my point, or pretending he doesn’t understand it because he doesn’t really have an argument against my central argument: this law is a an unwarranted intrusion by the state into the parent-child relationship.

    I find toddler beauty pageants appalling, and I am sure they are not healthy for children. But unlike SF, I don’t feel like bringing in the state to impose my values on other people (beyond the extent necessary to preserve social order). I recognize that liberty means accepting the fact that other people are going to do things I don’t like.

    Comment by V the K — April 27, 2012 @ 10:42 pm - April 27, 2012

  12. this law is a an unwarranted intrusion by the state into the parent-child relationship.

    Yet, you don’t pay any attention to NDT’s even lower threshold of government interference by his insistence that parents be arrested for taking their children to inappropriate movies, a far less damaging long term prospect than forcing your child to undergo invasive, dramatic, and probably damaging treatment for a problem it doesn’t even fix.

    Is that because you agree with him, or is it because he’s an ally and you fear disagreeing with him might strain your relationship?

    And yes, that last bit is sarcasm.

    Comment by sonicfrog — April 28, 2012 @ 12:14 am - April 28, 2012

  13. Is that because you agree with him, or is it because he’s an ally and you fear disagreeing with him might strain your relationship?

    Comment by sonicfrog — April 28, 2012 @ 12:14 am – April 28, 2012

    Or he read and understood my previous post.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — April 28, 2012 @ 12:52 am - April 28, 2012

  14. I finally figured out why if find this legislation so repulsive:

    It fits the current trend of using token (but well intentioned) policies to protect us from the Great Satan of:
    – Christianity
    – Bullies
    – Porno without condoms
    – Bigotry on Twitter

    As America moves rapidly forward in its everyday acceptance of gays and lesbians, others speak of a growing intolerance. We are helpless to protect ourselves from these agents of oppression, but fortunately our advocates will construct laws and language incorporating GLBT terminology at every opportunity, thereby saving us from what we cannot protect ourselves.

    Comment by Geena — April 28, 2012 @ 2:09 am - April 28, 2012

  15. I don’t recall NDT saying that the state should choose the movies that parents can and cannot take children to (although, IIRC, that is the idea behind the NC-17 rating). I believe his point was parallel to mine; parents are legally allowed to expose their kids to all kinds of stupid and potentially harmful practices. This type of therapy is singled out not because it’s especially harmful, but because it is politically unpopular. It is a vulgar display of power from the gay left to demonstrate they have more power in the California government than parents or Christians.

    Comment by V the K — April 28, 2012 @ 10:14 am - April 28, 2012

  16. >It is a vulgar display of power from the gay left to demonstrate they have
    >more power in the California government than parents or Christians.

    V the K sends one 500′ to deep center.

    Comment by Geena — April 28, 2012 @ 11:00 am - April 28, 2012

  17. Heh, Geena. That must be why my arguments fly right over his head.

    Comment by V the K — April 28, 2012 @ 11:49 am - April 28, 2012

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