The outrage surrounding California’s anti-conversion therapy bill (AB 2943) is growing by the press release. For instance, last Monday (April 30) Summit Ministries canceled a conference in CA because they contend the bill (when it becomes law) will forbid advice which doesn’t affirm homosexuality. According to the press release,
Summit’s program would fall under the proposed law because its lineup includes defenders of traditional man/woman marriage and people who advocate pursuing only those sexual activities approved in the Bible. Myers said it has also been common during prior trainings for students to ask questions of Summit staff about how to address confusion over gender identity and sexual attraction in the context of their faith. By prohibiting such conversations, AB2943 would cripple Summit’s ability to care for and equip its students, Myers said.
“What are we going to say to a young person experiencing sexual confusion?” he asked. “That the state of California forbids us from allowing a biblical ethic embraced by billions of people for thousands of years to inform our answer?
“California state authorities are hijacking good-faith concerns about reparative therapy to deny constitutional protection to those who hold traditional views of sexuality and marriage,” Myers added. “We cannot and will not bend God’s truth to accommodate the state of California.
“This is the most blatant chilling of free speech in America in my lifetime.”
According to the bill’s sponsor, the bill doesn’t relate to speech or religious teaching. It regulates sexual orientation change efforts. The bill would only apply to their conference if Summit Ministries charges conference goers for sexual orientation change counseling.
If students ask questions about what the Bible teaches, the teachers are free to provide whatever teaching they believe. They can recommend change efforts, celibacy, prayer, meditation, or whatever they believe. They can recommend books, sell books and tapes, and even recommend therapists. However, those therapists can’t conduct those treatments under the new law.
Would the Bill Prohibit Counseling to Live a Celibate Life?
Summit Ministries argued that biblical advice, such as celibacy, would be prohibited by the bill. I asked bill sponsor Evan Low’s office if counselors could help clients seek celibacy if clients wanted to avoid homosexual behavior. Low’s office referred me to policy advisor Anthony Samson who answered by email that “AB 2943 would not prohibit one from providing therapeutic help to an individual seeking to become celibate.” He pointed to the word “includes” in the following definition of “sexual orientation change efforts”
(i) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.
Samson said, “The term ‘includes’ means that the practices following it must be in connection with seeking to change an individual’s sexual orientation. In other words, ‘efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex’ would be precluded to the extent they were provided in connection with seeking to change one’s sexual orientation.” Samson explained, “Because providing services to help one become celibate would not be in connection with changing one’s sexual orientation, it would be permitted.”
So biblical advice would not be banned and therapeutic help for traditional clients will still be available as well. For instance, I have no hesitation in conducting or recommending sexual identity therapy in CA.
To me, these protestations appear to be efforts to derail the bill in order to protect reparative therapy. Having read the bill, I can tell that the Summit press release, and most of the Christian news articles on this bill are reactionary efforts which don’t deal directly with the actual bill. If these groups want to be ta ken seriously, they should secure scholarly opinions from serious legal scholars and not culture warriors.
Furthermore, if religious conservatives want to have an impact on this legislation, I encourage them to do what I have done. Contact the sponsor and enter into a respectful, rational, fact-based dialogue.
While there are several reasons why mental health advocates want to ban sexual orientation change efforts, I want to focus on the recent push to legislate bans on the practice by licensed professionals.
Historically, therapists who treat gays with an aim to change them have viewed homosexuality as a developmental disorder. Some may also think same-sex sexual behavior is immoral, but principally the use of therapeutic techniques is driven by a belief that there is something psychologically wrong with someone who is attracted to the same sex. If the right techniques can be applied, eventually the GLB person will experience a shift in psychological perspective and find the opposite sex attractive. In short, homosexuality is an illness to be cured.
As most readers know, this view of same-sex orientation isn’t held by any medical or mental health professional organization today. Only a tiny group of practitioners hold to this view and they are among those who are fighting legislative efforts to ban sexual orientation change efforts. When legislators craft bills to stop treatment of same-sex orientation, they are hoping to stop efforts to cure something that isn’t a disorder.
To me, this is a sensible stance. No disorder, no need for treatment.
On the other hand, many religious traditions disagree with same-sex sexual behavior. They discourage such behavior as inconsistent with their moral teachings. Churches and religious groups have the right to teach this and advise their members in keeping with their principles. When people ask for their advice or opinion, churches can teach their views. In fact, anyone can teach and speak any view about homosexuality.
However, when a person joins a learned profession and gets a state license to practice that profession, there are certain restrictions that come along with that choice. Mental health professionals are not clergy. We have a role to enhance the mental health of our clients and curing non-existent diseases doesn’t seem to me to be a part of that mandate. If clergy need to speak against certain behaviors, that is their right and the state’s regulation of mental health professionals cannot stop them.
I do have sympathy for those clients who believe that their same-sex attractions result from some historical trauma. In fact, there is a very small subset of people for whom those factors might be relevant to an understanding of their overall personality, including their sexual interests. I also believe that those people can continue to receive therapy, under these laws, if the treatment is not framed as a direct effort to change orientation.
Ultimately, I believe this is an issue of regulation of mental health professionals and not one of religious liberty. Since there is no universe in which sexual orientation change efforts are effective, why would mental health professionals make space for them? The rare exceptions can be accommodated via other frameworks (e.g., identity exploration, trauma recovery). Religious views will continue to be shared and any challenge to them will not succeed. We can coexist.
For more information on helping non-affirming same-sex attracted people live in keeping with traditional sexual ethics without engaging in sexual orientation change efforts, see the following articles and websites:
Princeton University history professor Kevin M. Kruse is a Twitter Ninja Warrior. He can slice and dice and bring the facts with a devastating wit.
In this Twitter thread he educates and illuminates a topic which has been muddied by Christian nationalist history writers such as Dinesh D’Souza and David Barton: The history of political parties and civil rights advocacy.
This thread is a wealth of information all in one spot and as such I highly recommend it. About the only thing I would add is a link to information on Lily White Republicans which he implied but didn’t name when he wrote:
That said, both parties in this period had their share of racists in their ranks.
When the second KKK rose to power in the 1920s, it had a strong Democratic ties in some states; strong GOP ones elsewhere.
As Kruse documents, the story of the evolution of the Democrats from Jim Crow to Civil Rights is one of the major stories of American political history. Thanks to Kevin for this thread.