Does the Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, believe it’s possible to change children from gay to straight? No one is quite sure of the answer, even as a bill to ban "conversion therapy" on minors heads to his desk.
The Senate passed the bill today, following the House — though neither won enough votes to override a LePage veto, should he issue one.
The Portland Press-Herald reports that “as a matter of course LePage typically does not comment on bills before they reach his desk.” The newspaper asked for comment but got no response. They’re not alone. No one’s heard a peep.
The central lawmaker pushing the legislation, Rep. Ryan Fecteau, a Democrat, told the Press-Herald he’s optimistic for a signature from the Tea-Party-loving governor. But what the LGBT community knows of LePage so far isn’t reason for hope.
LePage is infamous for a voicemail from 2016 when he repeatedly called a state representative a “cocksucker.” He later apologized only for getting angry. LePage once attacked another Democrat with homophobia, saying, "He's the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline."
LePage got reelected in 2014 by beating gay congressman Mike Michaud, who actually only came out when faced with a whisper campaign about his sexual orientation. LePage pushed back in 2016 against guidance allowing trans students to use the facilities that match their gender identity, and his administration filed a friend of the court brief in 2015 siding against trans student Gavin Grimm in his prolonged legal fight to use the boys’ bathroom.
But LePage wouldn’t be the first Republican governor to sign a bill outlawing conversion therapy on minors. Chris Christie did it in 2013 in New Jersey, which was one of the early trailblazers on the issue. Maryland’s Larry Hogan just signed a ban this year, as he faces a reelection fight. And in neighboring New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a ban earlier this month.
The complete list of states banning the practice now includes Connecticut, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, and New Hampshire. It’s also banned in the District of Columbia. New York couldn't pass a ban through its Senate — a failure that Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon blames on incumbent Andrew Cuomo — but the governor signed an executive order to prevent conversion therapy.
Even so, the Williams Institute estimates that some 20,000 teens will be subject to some form of so-called reparative therapy. Researchers estimate that 698,000 LGBT adults underwent conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including 350,000 while kids.
Equality Maine executive director Matt Moonen called on LePage “not to veto this needed bill that can save lives.” The governor has the option of merely letting the bill go into effect, even without his signature. If he does nothing in the next 10 days, the bill becomes law automatically.
Still, the Human Rights Campaign, which calls conversion therapy “nothing less than child abuse,” is asking LGBT people to contact LePage.
“It’s now imperative that fair-minded people across the state contact Governor LePage’s office and urge him to sign this bill protecting LGBTQ youth or allow it to become law,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “Other Republican governors across the country — including most recently in neighboring New Hampshire — have signed similar bipartisan legislation, and it’s vital for Maine’s LGBTQ youth that Governor LePage does the same.”
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders called on LePage to sign the law, which it said would protect kids from the “devastating consequences” of conversion therapy. The Trevor Project reports that kids who undergo the practice are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, and the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all condemned it as dangerous.
“Lawmakers heard from youth, parents and medical and child welfare professionals and have now sent the message to LGBTQ youth that they are loved and valued as they are,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for GLAD. “We urge the governor to follow suit and quickly sign this bill into law.”