Lawmakers debate ban on sexual orientation therapy

May 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Landmark legislation in California's Senate would crack down on phony treatments that promise to change a person's sexual orientation.

No matter how badly parents want to change their minor children's sexual orientation, they would not be able to use conversion in California under one proposal. California moved a step closer to becoming the first state in the country to ban conversion therapies for teenagers. It's a controversial treatment promoted by those who believe homosexuality is a mental disorder and that gay people can be made straight.

It didn't work for former therapy patient Peter Drake. "In fact, I only became more depressed. My sexual orientation didn't change at all," he says.

Democratic Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance is leading the charge to ban this practice for kids after hearing heartbreaking stories of teens who developed more intense feelings of suicide after these therapy sessions. They were often encouraged to play more sports or told repeatedly there's something wrong with them. The American Psychological Association says such treatments involve some risk and are likely to be unsuccessful.

"It's not just that people are wasting their time and money on these therapies that don't work, it's that these therapies are dangerous," Lieu says.

On the other hand, the Pacific Justice Institute thinks it's wrong to ban these conversion therapies. They point to the thousands from a group called Exodus International whose members now live heterosexual lives, many with spouses and kids, because of reparative therapy.

"To deny anyone in a free society the opportunity to have that counseling is an outrageous violation not just of the Constitution, but of human rights and basic humanity," says Brad Dacus with the Pacific Justice Institute.

However, Drake thinks a ban on conversion therapies is best for kids. "When I think about kids being told by their parents or other authority figures that they should go through this kind of therapy, that it'll fix them and that they're wrong in the first place, it's horrific," he says.

Some in the mental health profession think the ban is so broad it would prevent them from counseling about sexuality in general. Lieu says he would tighten up the language of his bill as it makes its way through the Assembly.


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