Can The State Ban Sexual Orientation Change Therapy On Children?
By Boyce Hinman
The opponents of SB 1172 have challenged this new law in the US District Court, Eastern District of California, saying that the legislation violates federal guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They say it violates the free speech rights of mental health professionals to speak of, or provide treatment to, their clients (presumably the child or the child’s parents).
SB 1172 prohibits medical professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change therapy on any child under the age of 18, even if a doctor suggests it be done, even if the therapy is requested by the parents or guardians of the child, and even if requested by the child.
SB 1172 was enacted by the legislature, and signed by the Governor, earlier this year. It is due to become effective on January 1, 2013. The opponents of the law (the plaintiffs) have asked the court to issue an injunction, prohibiting it from taking effect until the courts make a final decision as to whether or not it is constitutional. They claim that letting the law go into effect will cause immediate and irreparable harm that cannot be satisfied by money damages.
The plaintiffs allege that SB 1172 places them in a catch 22. They say the law puts mental health care professionals’ licenses at risk if they provide or recommend sexual orientation change therapy for children. However, since, in their minds, the therapy is sometimes medically necessary, they risk losing their professional licenses for failing to recommend and provide it in those situations.
They also say SB 1172 violates the right of children, and their parents to receive information regarding what they call, Sexual Orientation Change Efforts therapy. They feel the law violates the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children and it requires them to violate their ethical obligation to raise their children in a responsible way.
The state of California is nominally the defendant in the case. However, Equality California, which was the sponsor of SB 1172, has petitioned the court for permission to intervene in the case so that it may present arguments in support of the bill.
It is interesting that the trial in the U.S. District Court will be presided over by Judge Kimberly Mueller, who was nominated by President Obama. Prior to her appointment to the court she served as a staff member to California State Assembly Member Lloyd Connolly, a liberal Democrat. She also served, for five years, on the Sacramento City Council where she amassed a generally liberal record in office. At the very least, it seems she will not go into the case with a bias against LGBT people.
Judge Mueller has scheduled a hearing on November 30 to hear arguments for and against the issuance of a preliminary injunction to put off enforcement of the law until the courts have made a final decision as to its constitutionality.