US District Court Judge William Shubb has temporarily blocked a new California law which would bar licensed psychotherapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation of gay minors; however, the scope of his order is limited to just the three providers who appealed the law and to no one else. Shubb ruled that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals outweighs the concerns about the danger of the form of therapy does pose to younger people.
Shubb wrote “Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech.” Shubb also questioned the legislature’s finding that reparative therapy puts children at risk of suicide or depression saying that the findings were based on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies.”
To date, studies concerning reparative therapy have shown that it does not work, and anecdotal evidence shows that it is not effective and can lead to greater problems.
The law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown bars therapists and counselors from using reparative therapy on clients under the age of 18, and those who do would be considered engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by the state’s licensing board. A large number of professional societies have already shown that reparative therapy is ineffective. Doubts of the effectiveness of reparative therapy go back all the way to Sigmund Freud, who refused to take clients who wished to undergo such therapy. Most of the theories governing reparative therapy appear to go back to Nazi Germany where a variety of experiments were done to try and cure men of their homosexuality.
Although the ruling is a setback for the law’s supporters, the judge softened the impact of his decision by saying that it applies only to three people – psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor who specializes in clients who are unhappy being gay.
The exemption for them will remain in place only until Shubb can hold a trial on the merits of their case, although in granting their request for an injunction, the judge noted he thinks they would prevail in getting the law struck down on constitutional grounds.