There has understandably been an avalanche of media coverage in the five days since California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1172 into law, making California the first state in history to make it illegal for licensed counselors to offer dangerous and discredited “pray away the gay” therapy to minors. Thankfully, most of it has accurately reported the fact that so-called “ex-gay” therapies have been denounced by literally every major organization of medical and mental health professionals as scientifically discredited and potentially dangerous.
One frustration I’ve had is that in the coverage I’ve read, I can’t remember a single reporter who has probed — instead of merely parroted — the argument of the pro-reparative therapy set (that the new law is an attack on their religious freedom and erodes the “right” of parents to force their children into “ex-gay” therapy). A new column by Washington Post writer Becky Garrison, however, does just that, and not surprisingly, Garrison finds that argument to be utterly devoid of merit. She writes:
These “pro-family” activists conveniently ignore the glaring reality that this law does not force any religious entity or individual to go against their individual conscience. Within the confines of their church or home school scenarios, clergy and parents have considerable latitude when it comes to teaching the doctrines of their particular faith tradition. (In a similar vein, no law supporting marriage equality will force anyone to perform a same sex wedding. Ordained clergy have the right to refuse to marry anyone for any reason, a simple fact lost on those determined to legislate their view of Americana Christianity on to an ever increasing pluralistic public square.)
She’s right, of course. Furthermore, Garrison points out that it will still be possible for hardcore fundamentalists hell-bent on “curing” LGBT children to engage in the dubious practice under California’s new law (emphasis mine):
Under this law, unlicensed “Christian” counselors can continue their practice of “praying away the gay.” Hence, parents can still find resources should they wish to “cure” their children from the “sin of homosexuality” provided they can pay for the cost of these treatments. However, this law denies those mental health professionals who hold licenses issued by the state of California from engaging in practices deemed to be harmful to minor children. Should they continue to practice ex-gay therapies, they will risk censure and loss of their license. Simply put, if one wants the benefits that comes with having a state issued license such as insurance reimbursement, then one has to follow the civil laws issued by that state.
Argument obliterated. As Garrison notes, the groundbreaking California law deals with state-licensed mental health professionals. It does not make it illegal to believe that, facts be damned, “praying away the gay” is possible, nor does it outlaw the spreading of “ex-gay” falsehoods from the pulpit or in the home or even the practice of “ex-gay” therapy. What the law does is establish that the State of California will no longer grant licenses to mental health practitioners peddling dangerous and discredited “pray away the gay” junk science. It brings California state law into line with the scientific consensus on sexual orientation and the best practices of every major medical and mental health organization in America. But most importantly, it upholds the state’s solemn duty to protect its citizens — in this case, vulnerable LGBT youth — from those who would cause them harm, regardless of whether the justification for said harm is religious or secular in nature. And it does all of this without infringing in any way on the constitutional right of religious fundamentalists to believe in whatever anti-LGBT quackery they so choose.
As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing.