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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 31 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 05
Ninth Circuit upholds California law banning 'conversion therapy'
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Ninth Circuit upholds California law banning 'conversion therapy'

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a January 29 ruling, the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a previous decision by a three-judge panel that California's law banning so-called 'Gay conversion therapy' is lawful.

The measure, known then as SB 1172, was enacted in 2012 and protects minors from supposed mental health treatments that claim to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Such practices have been rejected by mainstream therapists and professional associations.

In fact, California's legislature based the law on the unanimous consensus of leading medical and mental health associations that such purported treatments have no scientific basis and put children at risk of serious harms, including depression and suicide.

The law was challenged by therapists who wanted to continue offering such 'treatments,' on the grounds that they had a First Amendment right to free speech.

The Ninth Circuit's panel ruled in August last year that California's law was a permissible regulation of medical treatment to protect public health and safety and did not violate the free speech rights of therapists.

The ruling of the entire Ninth Circuit allows that decision to stand, thereby ensuring that California's law will remain in effect.

Three of the Ninth Circuit's 27 active judges dissented from the ruling, but only because they disagreed with the original panel's reasoning that medical practice did not constitute protected speech.

The dissenting judges took no position on whether the statute is valid. 'The regulation at issue may very well constitute a valid exercise of California's police power...' they wrote.

'Today's decision affirms that California can protect young people and their families from being deceived and harmed by unethical therapists who falsely claim they can change a person's sexual orientation,' National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Legal Director Shannon Minter said.

'These practices have no scientific basis and can cause serious, lasting harms that devastate families and destroy young lives. California has a duty to protect the public from deceptive and unsafe practices by medical professionals who are licensed by the state. The Legislature did the right thing by enacting this protective law, and the ruling today strongly confirms that other states should follow California's example and adopt similar laws.'

Equality California Executive Director John O'Connor, who joined the defense in the case, said he was 'proud to have sponsored and defended this important law.'

'No ethical professional should put a young person's life and well-being at risk by engaging in these ineffective and dangerous practices,' he added. 'Every young person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and to be valued for who they are.'

New Jersey enacted a similar law in 2013, with support from Republican Governor Chris Christie. A federal district court upheld New Jersey's law on November 8, 2013, and that law is currently the subject of an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

In that litigation, NCLR represents Garden State Equality, New Jersey's largest LGBT rights organization.

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