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Judge blocks Calif. 'gay therapy' law over free speech concerns
By Kevin J. Jones
Robert Matsui Federal Courthouse in Sacramento is home to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. Photo by Rojer via Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
Robert Matsui Federal Courthouse in Sacramento is home to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. Photo by Rojer via Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

.- A federal judge has temporarily blocked a California law that bars therapy to change the behaviors or orientations of those with same-sex attractions under 18, ruling that a lawsuit against it will likely succeed on free speech grounds.

Opponents of the law praised Monday’s ruling.

Brad Dacus, President of the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, said Dec. 3 that the decision “sends a clear signal to all those who feel they can stifle religious freedom, free speech and the rights of parents without being contested.”

On Sept. 29 California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law S.B. 1172, a broadly worded law that bars any therapy “to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex” among minors. The law applies even if a minor and his or her parents desire the therapy.

U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb ruled on Dec. 3 that the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed” with their claims that the law violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

He blocked the enforcement of the law against the plaintiffs until he could evaluate the case further. The plaintiffs are psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who intends to specialize in the kind of therapy affected by the law, the Associated Press reports.

Homosexual advocates expressed disappointment with the ruling.

Backers of the law charge that the therapies it bans are unproven and potentially harmful. They say the therapies may increase the risk of depression and suicide, and the California legislature agreed.

However, the judge disputed the legislature’s finding, saying it was based on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies.”

Bill May, President of the San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good, said in his view the law is “unconstitutional on so many grounds.”

May told CNA Dec. 4 that he was surprised the judge limited the injunction only to the three plaintiffs. He said the law abridges the right of physicians or psychologists to “act in the interest of their patients based on their professional training and experience.”

He added that the law prevents parents from seeking treatment for their children and prevents children from seeking treatment for “unwanted same-sex attraction and gender confusion.”

According to May, the law would also affect Catholic counselors and bar them from “treating the whole person in accordance with their faith.”

Other plaintiffs are challenging the law. A federal judge in Sacramento is considering a legal challenge from four counselors, two families and a professional association of Christian counselors.

Tags: Homosexuality, Psychology, Therapy


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