Movement Against Conversion Therapy Accelerates

Movement Against Conversion Therapy Accelerates

Bans on so-called gay conversion therapy for minors are continuing to sweep through the United States, with Massachusetts, Colorado, and Puerto Rico being the latest to take action against the practice.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico signed an executive order banning the practice on March 24, while Massachusetts became the 16th state to outlaw it when Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation doing so on April 8. The same kind of legislation has been approved by the Colorado State Legislature and awaits the signature of out gay Governor Jared Polis.

The executive order in Puerto Rico came after lawmakers on the island blocked the bill, forcing Rosselló to take the issue into his own hands. The governor’s order stipulates that the framework of the regulations must be issued within three months.

“As a father, as a scientist, and as the governor for everyone in Puerto Rico, I firmly believe that the idea that there are people in our society who need treatment because of their gender identity or whom they love is not only absurd, it is harmful to so many children and young adults who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Rosselló said in a written statement.

Colorado’s passage of the ban in the Legislature was particularly special for the LGBTQ community there after the State Senate killed previous versions of the bill four times. Marty Rouse, field director at the Human Rights Campaign, thanked state lawmakers and praised Polis, saying that HRC looks forward to watching him sign the bill into law.

The law in Massachusetts easily passed through the State Legislature and Baker had previously indicated that he would “be inclined to support” it. But other Republicans, like former Maine Governor Paul LePage, have not been so willing to embrace the legislation. LePage vetoed the bill late last year after its passage in the State Legislature, marking the first time a governor nixed a conversion therapy bill delivered to their desk. A renewed push to ban the practice in Maine is underway under the new governor, Democrat Janet Mills.

With a few exceptions, the bans have passed predominantly in coastal states. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have enacted statewide bans on the practice thus far, while several local areas have enacted similar laws.

The laws are not unexpectedly facing resistance from conservative legal groups. The conversion therapy ban in New York City is being challenged by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a far-right organization known for representing anti-LGBTQ folks in court, while Liberty Council is aiming to wipe out the law in New Jersey.

Multiple conversion therapy bans in Florida are also in limbo, where, as in many cases, the First Amendment is at the center of attention. In February, a federal judge denied motions put forth by two Palm Beach County psychologists who sought to block enforcement of the county ordinance there, while a federal magistrate judge handling the ban in Tampa took issue with a ban on talk therapy — as opposed to coercive physical treatments — and suggested that part of the ban would be difficult to uphold because of the First Amendment. That case is headed next to a federal judge.