The Supreme Court declined to review challenges on Monday that would overturn California’s ban on gay conversion therapy for minors. One of only two states to enact a law, New Jersey being the other, California is now the first state to proceed in practice with its ban.
Gay conversion therapy has been in existence for a couple decades, following in the wake of the American Medical Association’s one-time definition of homosexuality as an illness. Although the science of so-called “reparative therapy” has been debunked time and time again, by just about every governing body in the psychological and medical field, conservative advocacy groups continue to uphold homosexuality as changeable and wrong.
In its rejection of the ban, the Supreme Court seemed to reflect the lower court’s initial stance, issued in August, which stated that any practice appearing to inflict harm on its patients, in this case psychological harm on minors, should be left out of clinical settings. However, as per its custom, the Court didn’t specify why it rejected the case.
Advocacy groups, such as the Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal aid group, contend the practice is meant for minors who seek the therapy, not who are driven toward it. This logic, of course, breaks down when it comes to a host of things we’ve already determined, as a society, aren’t up to kids to decide, such as getting braces or tattoos. One is decided for them, while the other is only up to them after 18.
This distinction frames many gay conversion therapy discussions. Neither ban in New Jersey or California banishes the process from clinical settings entirely, in fact. The courts have yet to say conversion therapy is altogether unhealthy; despite its total lack of medical salience, one of the luxuries of adulthood is the autonomy to choose where to spend money and resources. If it goes toward such therapies, so be it. Psychiatrists, however, may also exercise their free speech — a point of great consternation in gay conversion cases — in telling patients to find help somewhere else, from a religious figure perhaps.
Douglas Haldeman, a psychologist and activist against gay conversion therapy, says the practice is little more than a glorified hoax. “It’s a factoid — something that the conversion therapy folks have been claiming for years as justification for their industry,” he told Newsweek. “What is a fact is that gay men have suffered more societal rejection, discrimination and hostility — hence the motivation for trying to change one’s sexual orientation.”
The Court’s decision now has people wondering whether the New Jersey ban is up next on the chopping block. In the meantime, advocacy officials from California are praising the ruling as a landmark victory for gay rights groups.
“This important legislation will permanently improve the health and well-being of California’s most vulnerable LGBT young people,” said Shannon Minter, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “We look forward to more states joining California and New Jersey in preventing state-licensed therapists from engaging in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide.”