A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked California from enforcing a
first-of-its-kind law that bars licensed psychotherapists from
working to change the sexual
orientations of gay minors, but he limited the scope of his
order to just the three providers who have appealed to him to
overturn the measure.
U.S. District Court Judge William
Shubb made a decision just hours after a hearing on the
issue, ruling that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists,
psychologists and other mental
health professionals who engage in "reparative" or
"conversion" therapy outweigh concern that the practice poses a
danger to young people.
"Even if SB 1172 is
characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also
extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and,
at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on
speech," Shubb wrote.
The judge also disputed the
Legislature's finding that trying to change young people's
sexual orientation puts them at risk for suicide or depression,
saying it was based on "questionable and scientifically incomplete
The law, which was passed by
the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, states
that therapists and counselors who use "sexual orientation change
efforts" on clients under 18 would be engaging in
unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing
boards. It is set to take effect on Jan. 1.
Although the ruling is a
setback for the law's supporters, the judge softened the impact of
his decision by saying that it applies only to three people -
psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald
Welch, and Aaron Bitzer,
a former patient who is studying to become a counselor who
specializes in clients who are unhappy being gay.
The exemption for them will
remain in place only until Shubb can hold a trial on the merits of
their case, although in granting their request for an injunction,
the judge noted he thinks they would prevail in getting the law
struck down on constitutional grounds.
Bitzer, Duk and Welch were
represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, a Christian legal
group. President Brad Dacus said he thought Shubb's ruling would
have a chilling effect that would keep the licensing boards that
regulate mental health professionals from targeting other
"If there are any, we can
easily add them to the case as a plaintiff," Dacus said. "We know
we will have to have another hearing on the merits, but to be able
to get a preliminary injunction at this stage is very telling as to
the final outcome, and I'm very encouraged by it."
Complicating the outlook for
the law is that another federal judge in Sacramento is considering
similar arguments from four more counselors, two families and a
professional association of Christian counselors, but has not
decided yet whether to keep the ban from taking effect.
"We are disappointed by the
ruling, but very pleased that the temporary delay in implementing
this important law applies only to the three plaintiffs who brought
this lawsuit," National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director
Shannon Minter said. "We are confident that as the case progresses,
it will be clear to the court that this law is fundamentally no
different than many other laws that regulate health care
professionals to protect patients."
Lawyers for the state argue
that outlawing reparative therapy is appropriate because it would
protect young people from a practice that has been rejected as
unproven and potentially harmful by all the mainstream mental health associations.
A pro-family legal group is trying to stop the coming ban on
"gay"-to-straight therapy, as it asserts the change will encourage
children to act on same-sex attractions.
is defending the children who receive and benefit from counseling
for unwanted same-sex attractions. Founder Mat Staver tells
OneNewsNow his firm's attorneys recently argued against
California's SB 1172 -- the measure set to go into effect January 1
that bans "conversion therapy" for minors in the state.
"In our case we represent minors -- one of whom has
been in counseling for 14 to 15 months, has benefitted immensely by
the counseling. [He] no longer acts on, in fact [he] never did act
on the same-sex attractions, but they are reduced -- in fact,
eliminated from his life," Staver details.
"But effective January 1, 180 degrees will be turned around in
the counseling room, and he'll be told, No longer must you not
act on those. No longer will you be supported in not acting on
those same-sex attractions. But you ought to act on them. They're
good and natural and normal, and we have to change your religious
and moral views instead," the attorney laments.
Attorney General Kamala Harris says in filed court documents
that SB 1172 is based on a consensus that "homosexuality is not a
disease, condition, or disorder in need of a 'cure.'" But Liberty
Counsel maintains that the law is an extreme violation of free
speech and religious liberty.
Staver's legal group took action against the measure earlier this year on behalf of therapists who
try to help clients change their sexual orientation or reduce
same-sex attraction, parents who seek such therapy for their
children, and teens who are currently undergoing it.