The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider a case challenging a California law that bans licensed mental health practitioners from performing so-called conversion therapy to change the sexual orientation of minors from gay to straight.
The court’s refusal to take the case effectively upholds a federal appeals court ruling last August that the law approved by the California Legislature banning the controversial form of therapy did not violate free-speech rights of therapists or people under the age of 18 who may wish to obtain the treatment.
The law has been placed on hold by the courts since Gov. Jerry Brown signed it in September 2012 after the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian litigation group, first filed a legal challenge to the law. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, whose decision upholding the law was left in place by the Supreme Court on Monday, was expected to lift a stay it placed on the law pending action by the Supreme Court in the next few days.
“This life-saving law has cleared the final hurdle and will now protect California youth from harmful practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health organizations,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This important legislation will permanently improve the health and well-being of California’s most vulnerable LGBT young people,” Minter said.
Matt Staver, founder and chair of the Liberty Counsel, said the upholding of the law by the courts would have a harmful impact on young people who seek out the discredited treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions.
“I am deeply saddened for the families we represent and for the thousands of children that our professional clients counsel, many of whom developed these unwanted attractions because of abuse of a pedophile,” he said in a statement released on Monday.
Staver said he was hopeful that a separate court case in which his group is challenging a nearly identical law banning conversion therapy approved by the New Jersey Legislature will come before the Supreme Court with a different outcome.
California and New Jersey are the only two states that have approved such laws. Similar laws have been introduced in the legislatures of at least seven other states, including Maryland and Virginia.
The measure introduced in Virginia died in the General Assembly this year, but supporters say they will seek to bring it up against next year. In Maryland, the sponsor of a similar bill withdrew it earlier this year after Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued an opinion saying the state has administrative authority to put in place a ban on conversion therapy for minors without legislation.
The Supreme Court’s action on Monday came three days after opponents and supporters of conversation therapy testified before a D.C. City Council hearing on a proposed law that, similar to the California and New Jersey laws, would ban conversion therapy in the District for people under the age of 18.
Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who chairs the committee with jurisdiction over the proposed legislation, said the measure enjoys strong support from nearly the entire 13-member Council and is expected to pass before the end of the year.