The bill defines “sexual orientation change efforts” as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
In 2012, California became the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for minors by passing SB 1172. After signing the bill into law, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” The law was challenged and blocked that same year in Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown on the basis of free speech granted under the First Amendment. That decision was then reversed by the Ninth Circuit, which found that the doctor-patient relationship is not an association “for the purpose of engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.” The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so SB 1172 remains in force as California law.
New Jersey passed a similar law in 2013, and in 2015, a jury in New Jersey found JONAH, a Jewish gay conversion group, guilty of consumer fraud for advertising its ability to change the sexual urges of its clients. A total of 10 states have now banned conversion therapy for minors.
California’s AB 2943 copiously cites the American Psychiatric Association’s 2009 report, Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts, which concluded that no scientifically rigorous studies exist to show that sexual orientation change efforts work. “Until there is such research available, [the American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.”
Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have a legal duty to uphold certain ethical codes. “The business of healing intangible illness of the mental capacity requires extremely cautious boundaries and following specific guidelines of the profession to maintain the code to ‘do no harm,'” says psychiatric malpractice lawyer Rich Newsome.
Critics of the proposed California legislation, which include political and religious conservatives, oppose it on the grounds of free speech and religious liberty. They fear the law could lead to the banning of certain books, even the Bible.
The California bill now moves to the state Senate for approval. If it passes into law, it’s sure to be challenged and may eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court as a First Amendment case.