The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld California’s decision to ban the controversial sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) from mental health practice for those under 18 in a decision that has been deemed an assault on free speech by the practitioners. The move raises deep questions about the role of religion in modern society, shunning the Biblical viewpoint that LGBTQ individuals are “abominations” in favor of the more modern notion that they are just like anybody else and shouldn’t be forced into change. Learning more about SOCE and the court’s decision helps to put the ruling into perspective.
Conversion Therapy – SOCE
Conversion therapy—or “reparative” therapy—is the practice being referred to as SOCE in the legal debates. The practice has a fairly brutal history, involving things like electro-shock therapy and giving LGBTQ people nausea-inducing drugs while showing them sexually explicit images of people of the same sex. The methods are now little more than talking therapies or “pray the gay away” approaches in which individuals are often made to read Bible passages denouncing homosexuality in an effort to overturn their sexuality. They often argue that homosexuality is caused by the incomplete development of gender identity, and claim that this is often linked to a distant father and an overbearing mother.
The Court of Appeals was called upon to make a decision regarding SB-1172, a California bill that banned licensed therapists in the state from attempting conversion therapy on minors. Those in favor of SOCE argued that providing counseling is expressive, and should therefore fall under freedom of speech.
The court argued that the provision of any form of talking therapy is not merely speech; it is a way of providing treatment. They pointed out that therapists are free to comment to the public about conversion therapies or even to share their views on the topic (or on LGBTQ people in general) with patients of any age. The decision also doesn’t limit the ability of unlicensed individuals (such as religious officials) to perform conversion therapy on people of any age; only state-licensed practitioners are subject to the rules.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to whether the practice harms adolescents. The state has determined that it is harmful, and the court agreed that there is an “overwhelming consensus” to support that decision. This is the most crucial reason that the ban was upheld—the state should not license (and thereby approve of) therapies that do more harm than good.
Issues With Conversion Therapy
There are several problems with the conversion therapy. First, and most importantly, the current body of scientific evidence suggests that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful. This conclusion was drawn by the American Psychological Association (APA) in a systematic review of the literature on the topic. This means that regardless of personal opinion on whether conversion therapy is the right thing to be doing as a whole, it is not effective for the intended purpose. Even if the assertion of these practitioners (that sexual orientation is something to be “cured”) is taken to be correct, the patients who attend treatment hoping to change will not achieve what they want using this method.
In addition, the APA found that there is a risk of harm from the practices. The main source of this is what they term “minority stress,” which is stress caused by stigma and discrimination of a minority group. Prejudiced viewpoints about non-heterosexual orientations become internalized by LGBTQ individuals and serve as a source of continuing psychological distress. This has led the APA to call on practitioners to assess the motivations of clients who go in search of conversion therapy. It could represent this internalized prejudiced viewpoint to what they—and many people around the world—see as “normal and positive variants of human sexuality.”
Why Minors Should Be Protected
The sum of current knowledge suggests that not only is conversion therapy ineffective, it has the potential to be psychologically harmful. The elephant in the room is that any attempt to “convert” somebody’s sexuality is morally repugnant in the modern world. People do not choose their sexuality, and strong evidence that conversion therapy doesn’t work supports that fact. If an adult wants to try to change his or her sexuality, he or she is free to try. However, minors should not be forced to change because of pushy parenting, particularly at such a crucial stage in their development.