Maine Gov. Paul LePage Vetoes Conversion Therapy Ban

Paul LePage

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed a bill that would bar state-licensed professionals from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, aimed at turning LGBT people straight or cisgender.

In vetoing the bill Friday, LePage, an ultraconservative, anti-LGBT Republican, called it “bad public policy” that would limit therapists’ conversations with clients, Maine's Portland Press Herald reports.

“This bill attempts to regulate professionals who already have a defined scope of practice and standard of care per their statutory licensing requirements,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “I strongly agree that young people should not be physically or mentally abused if they come out to their parents or guardians because they have experienced sexual or romantic attraction to an individual of the same gender. However, as it is written – ‘any practice or course of treatment’ –  can call into question a simple conversation.”

Democratic Rep. Ryan Fecteau, the bill’s sponsor, said LePage’s statement is “ludicrous.” “It is not at all what this bill is about,” he told the Press Herald. During debate on the measure, Fecteau, who is gay, had shared his story of a university adviser recommending that he read a book on conversion therapy. Thirteen other states have banned the use of conversion therapy on minors, and every major medical and mental health group has deemed the practice ineffective and harmful.

LGBT groups denounced LePage’s action. “Governor LePage’s shameful decision to veto this life-saving legislation leaves Maine’s LGBTQ youth at risk of being subjected to a practice that amounts to nothing less than child abuse,” said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, in a press release. “These crucial protections are supported by a bipartisan majority, and have been signed into law in a growing number of other states by both Democratic and Republican governors -- including by the Republican governor in neighboring New Hampshire mere weeks ago. With this inexcusable decision, Governor LePage has become the only governor in the nation to veto legislation protecting young people from this abuse, solidifying his place in history’s hall of shame. HRC calls on the Maine legislature to override this veto and to demonstrate to the state’s LGBTQ youth that their lives and well-being are worth protecting.”

 “Government’s greatest responsibility is to protect its most vulnerable citizens, especially minors who may not be able to protect themselves,” said Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine, in the same release. “Governor LePage had the opportunity, in one of his final acts as governor, to make Maine a safer place for LGBTQ youth. Unfortunately, he chose petty politics over protecting kids.”

GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders executive director Janson Wu issued this statement: “Today’s heartless and dangerous action by Governor LePage leaves Maine’s youth at risk. There is a clear consensus in the professional medical and mental health community about the serious harms conversion therapy causes LGBTQ youth. Governor LePage had an opportunity to protect Maine youth from these harms, and to ensure parents are not misled into subjecting their children to an unsafe and ineffective so-called ‘treatment.’ Instead, the governor has sent a signal that the risk of hurting LGBTQ youth is acceptable. Thirteen other states, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, have already banned the practice, including neighboring New Hampshire where Governor Sununu signed a bill just last month. This is not a partisan question. It’s about sending the message to LGBTQ youth that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are loved and valued as they are. This is far from the final word on this issue. GLAD will continue working with our local partners to ensure the dangerous practice is stopped. It’s too important to young people across the state not to continue fighting for them to simply be themselves, and to know they are supported and cherished without having to change a fundamental and beautiful part of who they are.”

The legislature will reconvene Monday to consider overriding LePage’s vetoes of the conversion therapy ban and five other measures. However, the 19-12 Senate vote to pass the conversion therapy bill and the 80-55 vote on it in the House both fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, so supporters would have to persuade some opponents to change their votes.

Along with his other objections to the bill, LePage has accused legislators of applying a double standard by seeking to outlaw conversion therapy but refusing to pass a bill to ban female genital mutilation. Opponents of the latter measure have pointed out that female genital mutilation is already banned by federal law and “accuse Republicans of trying to score political points against Democrats while using the issue to demonize immigrants from African countries where the practice is prevalent,” the Press Herald reports.

“The governor failed to recognize the federal prohibition against FGM,” Fecteau told the paper. “There is no federal prohibition on conversion therapy. And if there was one, this wouldn’t be a topic of a bill here in Maine.”

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