Massachusetts House Passes Conversion Therapy Ban; Senate Sponsor Waffling on Child-Abuse Provision

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The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban conversion therapy for minors, 147-8.

The bill threatens therapists with loss of their state license to practice if they engage in techniques designed to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of someone 17 or younger in Massachusetts.

The bill passed intact Wednesday, March 13, after two amendments were beaten back.

The sponsor of the House bill, state Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), celebrated the vote on Twitter.

An opponent said the vote is disturbing.

“This is a terrifying example of the transgender movement steamrolling over the rights of parents and families who don’t want their children to have hormone injections and sex-change operations,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which advocates for Judeo-Christian moral principles on Beacon Hill, in an interview with New Boston Post.

The Massachusetts Senate has not yet taken up the legislation this session.

A Senate bill that would ban conversion therapy includes a provision requiring that parents who seek conversion therapy for their children be reported to the state’s family-services agency, which the House version doesn’t have.

But the sponsor of the Senate version, state Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), sounded open to scrapping the child-abuse language during an interview Tuesday with State House News Service. Montigny said he’s “still hopeful we’ll have a discussion” about requiring mandated reporters such as teachers, nurses, and doctors to report to the state instances of conversion therapy, but acknowledged that the provision makes the conversion therapy ban harder to pass.

A supporter of the conversion therapy ban came out against the child-abuse provision in the same State House News Service story.

“None of the other state laws have it and I don’t think it’s an effective way to do what needs to be done,” said Deborah Shields, executive director of Mass Equality, which is pro-homosexuality and pro-transgenderism, according to State House News Service. “It’s too likely to alienate too many people for the wrong reasons and won’t help, in fact, keep young people out of conversion therapy.”

Supporters of banning conversion therapy say it doesn’t work and shouldn’t be tried, because there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality and transgenderism. They also point to cases where homosexual adults report having been damaged by techniques used by their therapists, such as electric shock, pornography, nudity, and encouragement to express rage against their parents. Beacon Hill legislators have heard witnesses testify about such examples during the past two legislative sessions.

Opponents of banning conversion therapy say that human sexuality is fluid, and that in some cases an unwanted attraction to members of the same sex or identifying with the opposite sex can be counteracted through what they call “talk therapy,” in which therapists uses verbal techniques to help move the patient away from the homosexual or transgender feelings the patient doesn’t want. Beacon Hill legislators heard testimony the past two legislative sessions from witnesses who say talk therapy helped them overcome same-sex attraction or transgenderism and that they went on to live happier lives because of it.

Supporters of the ban call conversion therapy child abuse that the state should protect children from. They also describe it as a type of consumer fraud that the state should protect parents from.

Opponents of the ban say parents and children ought to be able to determine for themselves what therapy to seek, and that banning conversion therapy amounts to an attack on free speech and freedom of religion in favor of a one-size-fits-all view of therapy that conforms to a narrow political and social ideology.

The Massachusetts Senate isn’t expected to take up the conversion therapy ban this week, but Montigny, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he hopes a finished bill goes to the desk of Governor Charlie Baker soon. Baker, a Republican, said recently he’s “inclined to support” banning conversion therapy.

If a conversion therapy ban is enacted in Massachusetts, Beckwith said, therapists who practice it in the state would have a legal case against it.

“A lawsuit should be expected. We definitely have people who have standing to bring a lawsuit,” Beckwith said.

Federal appeals courts have upheld conversion therapy bans in California and New Jersey, and both times the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of those cases. That was before Brett Kavanaugh replaced Anthony Kennedy on the court, however, so it’s unclear what the current lineup of justices would do if presented with a new challenge to a state conversion therapy ban.