As we await word from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether they will take up cases related to same-sex marriage (e.g., CA Proposition 8; DOMA), another legal decision related to sexual minorities made news last Sunday. The governor of California signed into law the prohibition of people from the helping profession (e.g., psychologists, counselors, marriage and family therapists) to provide "sexual orientation change" types of therapy to minors in an effort to convert them to heterosexuality (SB 1172). The ink had not dried on the legislation when two Christian organizations vowed to file lawsuits to block the law from going into effect this January.
One such organization, Liberty Counsel, has already filed suit. Its founder and chairman, Mat Staver, has asserted that not allowing therapists to alter the sexual orientation of minors violates freedom of speech and religious liberty. A co-plaintiff with Liberty Counsel is the American Association of Christian Counselors.
There's much to say about this. For starters, the best scientific evidence suggests fairly consistently that individuals' sexual and affective proclivities are not very malleable. Moreover, studies suggest that sexual orientation is determined by some combination of genetic and environmental factors and is, in all likelihood, fairly crystalized by adolescence (If you're heterosexual, can you recall the time in your life when you sat around, mulled it over, and consciously decided to be heterosexual? Did you have a "coming out" party?).
With those scientific facts as a backdrop, the real problem is these Christians and their counselors are prejudiced against sexual minorities. The broader debate about same-sex marriage pits Christian groups (the anti-same-sex marriage folks) against those who are supportive of minority rights and the right to pursue one's own happiness and liberty. (Yes, I know, so don't bother writing: There are many Christians who support gay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage). But unequivocally, those who fight to deny LGBT people basic civil rights (such as the right to marry the person they love) always base their opposition on the idea that the LGBT life style violates their Christian values.
And those Christians try to elect politicians (typically, though not always, conservative Republicans) who they hope will impose their Christian values on everyone. Or they try to litigate their values onto everyone. Several points I'd like to make here:
One, if you think dancing is morally wrong, then don't dance. No one will force you to dance. How arrogant of you to tell the rest of us that we can't dance either. If you think marrying a gay person is morally wrong, then don't marry a gay person. Mind your own business. As long as you marry a consenting adult, do you want others deciding for you who you can or cannot marry?
Two, the government has to regulate the practice of medicine and psychology/counseling. Why? Their job is to prevent crackpots and evil-doers from engaging in practice that is not supported by evidence based on clinical trials. This is why you don't find medical doctors or licensed psychologists performing exorcisms to remove imaginary demons from people (we leave that amusing task to religious leaders and others suffering from delusions). Counselors do not have a right to abuse minors all because the minors manifest feelings or behaviors consistent with an emerging minority sexual orientation.
Third, the assertion that not being permitted to traumatize minors by imposing your bigotry against gays and lesbians (in the form of junk therapy) is a violation of your free speech or religious liberty is pretty absurd. You are free to express your bigotry and relish in religious liberty in your places of worship. You are not free to cloak your bigotry against sexual minorities in the name of science and the profession of therapy. The wish to convert sexual minorities to heterosexuals is simply another example of how religious arrogance and bigotry manifest themselves in the United States and elsewhere.
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