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.
Why the Mental Health Professionals Want to Ban Conversion Therapy
Some conservative pundits are worried that a bill moving to the California State Senate will ban the Bible or at least some Christian books. Upon examination, I don’t see a basis in fact for that claim.
The bill is AB 2943 and would amend state law on unlawful business practices with a prohibition on performing sexual orientation change therapy for a fee. A fact sheet for the bill provided by bill sponsor Assemblyman Evan Low can be viewed at the link below.
Liberty Counsel has been spreading the view that the Bible would be banned by the bill and National Review’s David French has made a serious case that the bill would lead to a ban on certain Christian books. Essentially, they say that the current law prohibits the sale of “goods” which result in harm from being sold. They argue that books which promote changes in behavior away from homosexual behavior even if the goal is celibacy might be considered within the reach of the statute since the statute defines sexual orientation change as including “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.”
Since the entire bill is about sexual orientation change, it seems clear to me that the reference to behavior change is due to the practice of some change therapists to get gay clients to engage in heterosexual behaviors even when it doesn’t seem natural as a kind of behavior therapy. This isn’t a reference to celibacy – which by the way doesn’t reflect a change in orientation.
In fact, the next section of the bill says that sexual orientation change efforts as defined by the statute don’t include interventions which:
(A) provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and (B) do not seek to change sexual orientation.
Clients who decide to live a celibate life can count on a counselor’s help as long as those interventions are neutral regarding change of orientation.
Does the Bill Ban Books?
I wrote Assemblyman Evan Low to ask if AB 2943 prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting conversion therapy by therapists. I also asked if the amended law would prohibit the sale of religious books or videos which advocate that gays should change their sexual orientation by religious means. Finally, I asked if AB 2943 prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting celibate behavior for gays as a way to adhere to religious beliefs.
Low’s Communications Director Maya Polon wrote back to answer all three questions negatively. According to the sponsor, the bill doesn’t relate to books or speech. I followed up by asking if any of the unlawful business practices has ever led to the banning of any books or speech. She wrote back to say that she wasn’t aware of any instance where books about any those practices have been banned. I also asked Mr. French via Twitter if he was aware of books banned in CA due to the unlawful practices law but have not heard back from him as yet.
A few days ago Evan Low responded to this issue via Twitter:
I haven’t decided what I think of the bill yet but unless this part of the law has ever been used to try to ban books before, then it doesn’t seem to be a serious reason to oppose it now. There is a lot wrong with conversion therapy but generally I favor more freedom not less. What makes me think this could be a reasonable response to the harm reparative therapy can do is that there is nothing in the bill that stops a person from trying to make personal changes outside of a professional context. Furthermore, I don’t see how the bill prohibits counselors from helping clients who pursue celibacy. However, it does remove the stamp of approval of the mental health professions for change therapy.