October 2012 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
or choose print from the menu)


California Bans “Reparative” Gay-Conversion Therapies

by Emily Ike

On September 30, California became the first state to ban therapies that attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors. California State Senator and sponsor of this bill, Ted Lieu, referred to such therapies as “psychological child abuse,”[1] while Governor Jerry Brown notes that these approaches “have no basis in science or medicine.”[2]

Conversion therapy, which is also known as reparative therapy or “sexual reorientation” therapy, is based on the idea that sexual orientation is a choice that can be changed, and also operates under the assumption that attraction to same-sex individuals is a result of childhood trauma. Some of the practices involved in “reparative” therapy include: psychoanalytic therapy, prayer and spiritual interventions, electric shock, nausea-inducing drugs, hormone therapy, surgery, and behavioral treatments such as masturbatory reconditioning and visits to prostitutes.[3] Peter Drake, a former participant in reparative therapy, described these practices as “a very, very dangerous therapy that doesn’t work and leaves a lot of people feeling despair and hopelessness.”[4]

The American Psychiatric Institute has reported that reparative therapies pose “a great risk [to patients], including increasing the likelihood or severity of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior”, and that “these therapists alignments with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already felt by patients.” [5]

Though the new law is receiving support from many, including gay rights groups, the California Psychological Association and California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences, the practitioners of these therapies are not backing down so easily. David Pickup, spokesman for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, has threatened to file a “major lawsuit,” while the Christian legal group The Pacific Justice Institute, has filed a lawsuit claiming that this ban violates First Amendment and privacy rights.[6]

Opponents of the bill claim that this law infringes on the rights of therapists to practice this therapy, as well as infringing on parents’ rights. The California-based group, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays wrote in an open-letter to Senator Lieu; “Your bill will turn California into a nanny state by usurping the civil rights of parents who support their child’s right to receive therapy for unwanted same-sex attractions, especially when that child has been sexually molested. This smacks of fascism and ex-gay bashing.”[7]

In response to this opposition, Senator Lieu, who is also a former prosecutor, called these lawsuits “frivolous,” and noted that; “Under the plaintiffs' argument, the First Amendment would shield therapists and psychiatrists from medical malpractice and psychological-abuse claims simply because they use speech in practicing their medicine. That is a novel and frivolous view of the First Amendment.”[8]


[1] Alice Gomstyn, “California Bans Gay Conversion Therapy for Minors”, ABC News, 1 October 2012 accessed 19 October 2012, <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/10/01/california-bans-gay-conversion-therapy-for-minors/>.

[2] Josh Levs, “California governor OKs ban on gay conversion therapy, calling it ‘quackery’”, CNN, 2 October 2012, accessed 19 October 2012, <http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/01/us/california-gay-therapy-ban/index.html>.

[3] Haldeman, D. C. (1994). The practice and ethics of sexual orientation conversion therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 221-227. Retrieved from <http://www.drdoughaldeman.com/doc/Practice&Ethics.pdf>.

[4] Josh Levs, “California governor OKs ban on gay conversion therapy, calling it ‘quackery’”, CNN, 2 October 2012, accessed 19 October 2012, <http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/01/us/california-gay-therapy-ban/index.html>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alice Gomstyn, “California Bans Gay Conversion Therapy for Minors”, ABC News, 1 October 2012 accessed 19 October 2012, <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/10/01/california-bans-gay-conversion-therapy-for-minors/>.

[8] Jason Kandel, “Lawsuit Filed to Fight California Gay Conversion Therapy Ban”, NBC4 Souther California, 3 October 2012 accessed 19 October 2012, <http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Lawsuit-California-Gay-Conversion-Therapy-172484671.html>.