A bill calling for banning licensed mental health professionals from performing conversion therapy for minors died in the Massachusetts Legislature on Aug. 1, even though it had been approved by both the state House and Senate.
In a development that disappointed LGBT activists, the state Senate passed the bill by voice vote without opposition minutes after midnight on the final day of the legislature’s 2018 session. But the Senate was unable to make technical changes needed to make the bill consistent with a version passed by the House in June before the legislative session ended for the year.
According to the New Boston Post, supporters of the bill in the Senate initially balked at adding an amendment that the House passed removing controversial language from the original version of the bill that called for declaring conversion therapy for minors a form of child abuse. If left in the bill, the provision could have authorized the state’s child protection agency to remove children from the home of parents who forced them to undergo the therapy, a prospect that outraged conservative activists.
Deborah Shields, an attorney and executive director of Mass Equality, a statewide LGBT rights organization, said an effort by the bill’s supporters to extend the deadline for the Senate to complete work on the bill was blocked by one of its opponents in the House, Rep. James Lyons (R-Andover).
Shields said supporters of the bill plan to immediately reintroduce it in January, when the legislature begins its 2019 session. But she said the process of moving the bill through both houses of the legislature must start from scratch under legislative rules.
“So we have to start the battle all over again,” she said. “As you can probably tell, I’m frustrated and aggravated by the whole process.”
Similar to conversion therapy bans passed in more than a dozen states and D.C., the Massachusetts bill called for banning licensed mental health professionals from performing conversion therapy to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity that is under the age of 18.
Meanwhile, the California State Assembly in April passed a bill that would classify conversion therapy performed for a fee, for adults or minors, as a form of consumer fraud subject to penalties under the state’s consumer protection law.
Although LGBT activists and legal experts believe the state’s existing consumer protection law could be invoked to take civil action against those performing conversion therapy for a fee, advocates said they pushed for the new legislation to make it explicit under state law that the therapy must be treated as consumer fraud.
The bill became stalled in the state Senate for the past three months after opponents stepped up a campaign portraying the bill as a threat to free speech that could result in the banning of books, including the Bible. Supporters disputed those claims, saying the bill clearly would only impact people who charge money to perform conversion therapy.
This week supporters, including Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who introduced the measure, said they expect the Senate to vote on the bill before the legislative session ends on Aug. 30. However, Low’s press spokesperson, Maya Polon, said supporters could not predict whether the bill has enough votes in the Senate to pass.