In the last several years, there has been a growing movement in the United States to ban sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which liberals often call “conversion therapy,” a practice that uses psychological and spiritual means to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. Since 2013, twelve states plus the District of Columbia have passed statutes banning SOCE for minors, several of which were signed by Republican governors. Just last month, Maryland and Hawaii became the eleventh and twelfth states respectively to ban the practice. As of May, legislation to ban SOCE has been introduced or is pending in 13 states. Nearly 40 cities and municipalities around the country have also passed ordinances banning the practice for minors.
At the national level, the Therapeutic Fraud and Prevention Act has been introduced in both the House and Senate and would ban any SOCE performed in exchange for monetary compensation. On April 19, by a vote of 50-18, the California Assembly passed a bill that bans the sale of goods or services related to any SOCE. Although strong opposition has been raised in California, few would be surprised if the bill is passed by the state senate and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown later this summer.
In the rush to ban SOCE, proponents are ignoring several basic constitutional rights. Many of these misguided bills seek to ban the sale of goods or services designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, a gross violation of the free speech rights of many counselors and Christian ministries. SOCE advocates simply want the right to offer their goods and services in the marketplace like anyone else. They aren’t forcing their goods and services on anyone, as SOCE opponents have argued. The California bill is particularly concerning as it could lead to banning the sale of the Bible and other materials used by Christian counselors and ministries who participate in SOCE.
Banning SOCE for minors is also a significant violation of parental rights. In banning this type of therapy, the state is essentially saying that it knows what is better for a child than the parent does. It also prevents many young people who want to change their sexual orientation from getting the help they need to do so.
Perhaps the most devastating consequence of all in the rush to ban SOCE is taking away the opportunity for people to seek change. Yes, there are doubtless many people who do not desire to leave their homosexual lifestyle or change their homosexual desires. But there are also many other people who seek to change their same-sex attractions. To put it simply, banning SOCE denies people with unwanted same-sex attractions the right to seek change.
Banning SOCE will put the United States on a slippery slope of more constitutional rights violations. Not only does it violate free speech and parental rights, it also harms the very people it intends to help. The right to change and the right to offer goods and services to those seeking change are fundamental human and constitutional rights that must be protected.