A federal judge in California dealt a limited but pointed blow to a new state law that bans the use of “ex-gay” therapy for minors, ruling in favor of the free speech rights of practitioners and questioning the harms posed by the therapy.
U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb issued a ruling that only applies to three challengers, but he noted that he believes they will be successful in striking down the law, the Associated Press reports.
"Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech," Shubb wrote, according to the AP.
The law, which takes effect on January 1, says that therapists and counselors who attempt to “change” the sexual orientation of clients under age 18 will be subject to discipline by state licensing boards.
Judge Shubb also disputed the claims of the California state legislature, which passed the measure, that “ex-gay” therapy puts young people at risk for suicide or depression. He said that finding was based on "questionable and scientifically incomplete studies,” according to the AP.
Although the ruling only applies to three people, another federal judge in Sacramento is also reviewing a similar challenge from counselors, families and a Christian professional association.
Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, issued a statement in response to the ruling. He said opponents of so-called ex-gay therapy were “very pleased” the ruling only applies to three plaintiffs.
“We are confident that as the case progresses, it will be clear to the court that this law is fundamentally no different than many other laws that regulate health care professionals to protect patients,” he said. “That is especially important in this case because the harms to minors are so serious, including suicide and severe depression. Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has rejected these practices and warned that they are not only completely ineffective, but dangerous. California did the right thing by enacting this law, and we are confident the courts will find that it is not only constitutional, but vitally necessary. It is heartbreaking to think of the terrible damage that has been done to so many LGBT youth and their families, and of the lives that have been lost or destroyed because of these discredited practices.”