The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a 2012 California law that prohibits licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of a person under the age of 18 through so-called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy.
The ruling by a three-judge panel states that two separate lawsuits filed by anti-LGBT groups challenging the law could not succeed in their assertion that the law infringes on the free speech rights of therapists who seek to perform the therapy.
The appeals court also rejected claims by the groups filing the lawsuits that the law, known as SB 1172, interferes with the rights of parents to provide therapy seeking to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of their children on religious grounds.
“Fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific type of provider for a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful,” 9th Circuit Judge Susan Graber wrote in the unanimous three-judge decision.
In defending the law, California officials argued that virtually all of the organizations representing the medical and mental health professions, including the American Psychiatric Association, have called the therapy harmful and ineffective in changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
All of the nation’s leading medical and mental health organizations have also warned that therapy seeking to change someone from gay to straight, especially youth, places them at risk for depression and suicide.
“The court’s decision today on Senate Bill 1172 is a major victory for anyone who cares about the well-being of our youth,” said John O’Connor, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality California. “It will directly impact the lives of thousands of young people by protecting them from this horrific practice.”
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, one of the groups seeking to overturn the law, said the group plans to appeal the 9th Circuit Appeals Court’s decision.
“This decision is a dark day for those who believe in the First Amendment and the right of parents over the proper upbringing of their children,” the San Jose Mercury News quoted him as saying.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the measure into law in September 2012, said it was needed to protect children and teenagers under the age of 18 from “non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide.”
Brown added, “These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”
The decision by the 9th Circuit panel followed an earlier split decision by two U.S. District Court judges in Sacramento last December. One of the judges ruled the lawsuit challenging the law had merit and issued a stay temporarily preventing the state from enforcing the law. Another District Court judge ruled that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit most likely could not succeed in their constitutional challenge because the law didn’t violate their free speech rights.
Thursday’s ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld the ruling of the District Court judge who asserted the case challenging the law would not likely succeed on constitutional grounds.
However, the 9th Circuit panel ordered that the two cases be sent back to their respective District Court judges for deliberation and a decision on other legal challenges filed by the plaintiffs, according to a statement released on Thursday by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said the overall action by the 9th Circuit judges clears the way for the eventual permanent upholding of SB 1172.
“The court of appeals ruled in very clear terms that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide,” Minter said in a statement.
On Aug. 13, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar bill into law. Other bills calling for banning “conversion” therapy for minors have been introduced in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.