Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed legislation on Friday that would have banned widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy for youth in his state, making him the first governor ever in the United States — Democrat or Republican — to veto such a measure.
LGBT rights supporters resoundingly criticized the veto of LD 912 by LePage, a Tea Party politician who was once dubbed by Politico as “America’s craziest governor.” Fourteen states and D.C. have enacted similar measures.
Marty Rouse, the Human Rights Campaign’s national field director, said in a statement LePage’s veto was a “shameful decision” and “leaves Maine’s LGBTQ youth at risk of being subjected to a practice that amounts to nothing less than child abuse.”
“These crucial protections are supported by a bipartisan majority, and have been signed into law in a growing number of other states by both Democratic and Republican governors — including by the Republican governor in neighboring New Hampshire mere weeks ago,” Rouse said. “With this inexcusable decision, Gov. LePage has become the only governor in the nation to veto legislation protecting young people from this abuse, solidifying his place in history’s hall of shame.”
Rouse called on the Maine Legislature — controlled in the House by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans — to override LePage’s veto so the measure will become law regardless of his action. The Maine House approved the measure by 80-55 and the Maine Senate voted for final passage 19-12 in the special legislative session last month.
The practice of therapy aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or transgender status is considered ineffectual at best and harmful at worst. Major medical and psychological institutions — including American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — widely reject the practice.
In a statement to the legislature, LePage said he vetoed LD 912 because “it is bad public policy” and “attempts to regulate professionals who already have a defined scope of practice and standard of care per their statutory licensing requirements.”
“I strongly agree that young people should not be physically or mentally abused if they come out to their parents or guardians because they have expressed sexual or romantic attraction toward an individual of the same gender,” LePage said. “However, as this is written — ‘any practice or course of treatment’ — can call into question a simple conversation. This is so broad that licensed professionals would be prohibited from counseling an individual even at the individual’s own request.”
LePage also stated he had concerns the bill would impinge on “religious liberty,” which is code in conservative circles to mean the ability to discriminate against LGBT people.
Additionally, LePage said he’s seen “no evidence” indicating conversion therapy “is being used by anyone, including licensed professionals, in the State of Maine.”
“Because the standard of practice for these professionals already prohibits any practice or therapy that would amount to physical or mental abuse, what we are really trying to regulate are the private consultative conversations between a licensed provider and a client,” LePage said.
LD 912 would have prohibited the advertising, offering or administering conversion therapy to individuals under 18 years of age in Maine as an unfair trade practice, penalizing mental health workers who engage in the practice with loss of their license. The bill had an exemption for members of the clergy as long as they don’t engage in “ex-gay” therapy for monetary compensation.
Other jurisdictions that have enacted similar measures are Connecticut, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, New Hampshire and D.C.
LePage stands alone even in his own party in vetoing the measure. Among the Republican governors that signed bans on “ex-gay” therapy into law are former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Bruce Rauner, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
LePage has expressed anti-gay sentiments before. In 2016, LePage left a voicemail message for a political opponent in his state filled with profanities and the use of the anti-gay slur “cocksucker.” The governor later said his actions were “unacceptable” and “totally my fault.”
Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement LePage’s veto is a “heartless and dangerous action” that leaves LGBT lives at risk.
“Gov. LePage had an opportunity to protect Maine youth from these harms, and to ensure parents are not misled into subjecting their children to an unsafe and ineffective so-called ‘treatment,'” Wu said. “Instead, the governor has sent a signal that the risk of hurting LGBTQ youth is acceptable.”