Massachusetts House Passes ‘Conversion Therapy’ Ban – With A Twist

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The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” for children – but only after dropping a provision that would have defined seeking it as child abuse.

The measure would make it illegal for licensed mental-health therapists to offer techniques for patients under 18 years old designed “to impose change on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” on pain of losing their license to practice.

The House voted 137 to 14 in favor of the measure, now known as House Bill 4664.

Earlier in the day the House Ways and Means Committee voted to recommend the bill, but only after taking out a section from the original version that would have required a “mandated reporter” (such as a teacher, doctor, or nurse) to notify state authorities if a child has been “subjected to sexual orientation and gender identity efforts” – which critics of the bill said could have led to social-services investigations of parents seeking mental-health treatment for their children.

Critics of conversion therapy have cited electric shock and other negative stimuli as grotesque examples of trying to change same-sex attraction and transgenderism that should be banned.

State Representative Jim Lyons (R-Andover) offered an amendment before the main vote Wednesday trying to preserve what conversion therapy supporters call “talk therapy.” The amendment sought to define what it called “aversion therapy” as “any practice, treatment, or therapy in which a client or patient is subjected to the use or application of any device, substance, odor, or force that causes or is intended to cause pain, discomfort, or unpleasant sensations to the client or patient.” It also would have protected methods “which utilize speech alone to assist the client or patient in achieving his or her desired sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Lyons’s amendment failed, 34-117.

A supporter of banning conversion therapy congratulated House members. Carl Sciortino, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee, the public health division of Fenway Health, drafted the original version of the bill when he was a state representative.

“To any parent struggling with their child being LGBT, the best thing you can do is to tell them you love them. Unconditionally. I applaud the House for passing this bill, which makes sure that you and your child won’t be deceived into thinking they can be cured when there is nothing actually wrong with them,” Scirotino said in an email message. “Give them love and support, not false hope, abuse, or quack medicine.”

An opponent of the conversion therapy ban noted the removal of the child-abuse provision but stopped short of declaring victory.

“We’re glad to see the Massachusetts House no longer thinks counseling is the same as ‘child abuse,’ but H.4664 is still an unconstitutional restriction on free speech for therapists and the families they serve,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, in a written statement.

The bill now goes to the Massachusetts Senate.