The D.C. City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to give final approval to two far-reaching LGBT rights bills, including one that bans so-called conversion therapy that seeks to change minors under the age of 18 from gay to straight.
The Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Act of 2014 would make D.C. the third jurisdiction in the U.S., after California and New Jersey, to ban the therapy for minors on grounds that mental health experts have shown it to be harmful and dangerous for those who undergo such therapy.
“Conversion therapy has been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health association, including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.
HRC and the National Center for Lesbian Rights joined local LGBT and youth advocacy organizations in lobbying the Council for approval of the bill. The measure was written by Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and co-sponsored by nearly all 13 Council members, including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
Mayor-elect and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) was also among the co-sponsors. Mayor Vincent Gray has said he would sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.
“No child should be subjected to this extremely harmful and discredited therapy,” said Sara Warbelow, HRC’s legal director.
“These harmful practices are based on the false claim that being LGBT is a mental illness that should be cured,” she said.
“Today, the D.C. Council sent a powerful message to LGBT youth and their families that they are accepted, supported, and loved,” said Samantha Ames, the National Center for Lesbian Rights staff attorney.
The other LGBT-related measure approved Tuesday by the Council, which received less media attention, was the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014.
That bill, among other things, repeals a provision of the D.C. Human Rights Act imposed on the city by Congress in 1989 known as the Armstrong Amendment. The provision provides an exemption to the Human Rights Act that allows religious educational institutions to discriminate against gay and lesbian student groups.
Then-Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.) persuaded his fellow lawmakers to attach his amendment to the city’s annual appropriations bill that must be approved by Congress. Armstrong said his aim was to overturn a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling that required Georgetown University to provide the same rights and benefits to a gay student group that it offered to all other student groups.
While requiring Georgetown to provide such benefits and privileges to gay student groups, the court did not require the Catholic college to officially recognize such groups if doing so would be contrary to its religious principles.
Cheh, a George Washington University law professor, said her bill was crafted in a way that she believes does not overstep the city’s authority to pass laws under the city’s Home Rule Act, through which Congress established the city’s home rule government in the early 1970s.
Cheh noted that, like all legislation passed by the Council and signed by the mayor, the Human Rights Amendment Act must clear a 30 legislative day congressional review in which Congress can vote to kill the measure. Similar to the passage of the Armstrong Amendment, opponents in Congress could attempt to attach an amendment to the city’s appropriations bill next year seeking to change or kill the legislation.
An official at Catholic University testified against the bill during a public hearing earlier this year, saying the university opposes discrimination against LGBT people but was concerned that the legislation could force it to recognize a group whose mission was contrary to Catholic teaching.
Cheh and others supporting the bill have said the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling handed down in 1989 held that the Human Rights Act, as it stood before the Armstrong Amendment took effect, did not require religious educational institutions to recognize gay student groups. The ruling held, Cheh and others have said, that such educational institutions must offer gay groups the same amenities as other groups such as meeting space and use of bulletin boards to post meeting notices.
“The time has come for us to get rid of that obnoxious provision,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, who noted that, while rarely used, the provision forced the city to accept a form of potential discrimination for the past 25 years.
The conversion therapy bill, similar to the other measures in California and New Jersey, pertains only to mental health providers licensed by the city. It adds a provision to an existing D.C. law regulating licensed mental health providers that would subject them to “discipline and penalties” imposed by the city if they violate the new law by providing conversation therapy to minors.