Federal judges in the US have upheld California’s decision to ban mental health professionals from trying to reverse homosexuality in minors.
The Golden State was the first in the US to bar the so-called “gay conversion therapy”, a controversial practice that has since been outlawed in New Jersey. The measure was set to take effect in January but faced legal challenges from opponents who argued it violated the rights of patients, parents and professionals.
But this week, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the arguments, saying: “California has authority to prohibit licensed mental health providers from administering therapies that the legislature has deemed harmful.”
Ted Lieu, the Democratic state Senator who authored the ban, welcomed the decision, saying the ruling “puts another nail in the coffin for the discredited and harmful practice of gay conversion therapy”.
“The Constitution never has allowed and never will allow, psychological child abuse,” he added. “Now the law has caught up to the truth: sexual orientation is not a mental illness or defect, but rather the beautiful realisation of what it means to be human.”
However, conservative opponents of the law said they would continue to fight the ban.
Brad Dacus, who heads the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, said the appellate court’s decision marked “a dark day for those who believe in the First Amendment [of the US constitution] and the rights of parents over the proper upbringing of their children. Make no mistake, we are not finished in our efforts to overturn this outrageous legislation,” he added, saying his group would consider options to appeal the ruling.
Another group, Liberty Counsel, also weighed in against the ban, with its founder, Mat Staver, claiming that the state has “no compelling or empirical reason to justify banning change therapy, especially when the client seeks such counsel”.
“The minors we represent do not want to act on same-sex attractions, nor do they want to engage in such behaviour,” he added.
Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Republican Governor, Chris Christie, approved a similar measure banning gay-conversion therapy in the state, citing research that showed that “efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks, including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts”.
The Californian ban was signed into law by the state’s Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown.
Like the Californian ban, the New Jersey measure has already been challenged in federal court, with a group of Christian counsellors and professionals claiming it violates their obligation to “respect the rights of clients” to make decisions regarding therapy because “the state has already made the decision for every client that may seek counselling from a licensed professional on the issue of sexual orientation,” according to Newark’s Star Ledger newspaper.
The appeal court ruled the state could ban therapies the legislature deemed harmful