Anti-Gay Therapy Ban Impugned in California


(CN) - Therapists who purportedly counsel patients into heterosexuality filed a federal complaint against California's ban on anti-gay teen therapy.

Known as Senate Bill 1172, the law prohibits licensed mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and family therapists, from using sexual orientation change therapy and other "reparative" methods with clients under the age of 18. The ban targets any practices that seek to change sexual orientation or behavior and gender expression.

After months of lobbying and objections, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1172 into law on Sept. 30. The state said its law aimed to protect "the physical and psychological well-being of minors from the serious harms of sexual orientation change efforts."

Under the law, mental health providers who use sexual-orientation-change therapy on clients under 18 would face disciplinary proceedings by a state licensing board for engaging in unprofessional conduct. The law is slated to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

A psychiatrist, a licensed Christian counselor and a patient who says "sexual orientation change therapy" worked for him now demand an injunction against the law.

The therapists claim that their practice puts them in contact with minor patients who are struggling with issues relating to sexual orientation or experience sexual identity confusion.

They say the ban prevents them from treating minor patients with either counseling or prescription medications to help them control their unwanted sexual behavior and attractions, and forces them to discriminate against such patients based on their sexual orientation.

"The statute materially interferes with the plaintiff mental health professionals' exercise of their independent professional judgment in providing treatment to minors who have unwanted same sex behaviors or attractions," the complaint states. "As such, the statute requires the plaintiff mental health professionals to discriminate against minors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning youth. This is in violation of these plaintiff mental health professionals' obligations under the rules of professional ethics to provide treatment to persons regardless of their sexual orientation.

"The statute also materially interferes with the private decisions agreed upon between a therapist and client. Issues touching upon sex involve some of the most personal matters relating to the human experience. These include: mental and emotional issues, medical matters, religious beliefs, cultural norms, interfamily relationships, and philosophical understandings. The goals of the client and the approach of the mental health professional in plotting a course for reaching those goals are extremely private matters. That level of privacy is heightened when it comes to sexuality and the issues relating thereto. The statute thus involves government intrusion into an intimate zone of privacy."

Aaron Bitzer says he formerly experienced same sex attractions before a successful round of "reparative therapy." He claims that California's law prevents him from sharing his experience with minors experiencing the same thoughts.

The two therapists suing are Donald Welch and Anthony Duk. Welch says he has a doctorate in education, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is an ordained ministerial staff member at the Skyline Church of San Diego. Duk has a medical degree and says he practices psychiatry in California.

"SB 1172 purports to prevent minors, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning youth, from accessing mental health services and treatment designed to address self-perceived needs to alter sexual desires," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say the law violates their and their patients' right to privacy, interferes with parents' child-raising practices and is "hopelessly vague" as to the forbidden conduct.

Since the law is also devoir of religious exception, it "would directly curtail the religious expression of members of the clergy who are also mental health professionals," according to the complaint.

The trio is represented by Matthew McReynolds with the Pacific Justice Institute.

They sued Gov. Brown; Secretary of California State and Consumer Services Agency Anna Caballero; Director of Consumer Affairs Denise Brown; and members of California's Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Medical Board of California.

Source: Courthouse News Service