Governor Jerry Brown has signed a first-of-its-kind bill that would ban licensed psychologists and professional therapists, but not counselors of religious groups, from trying to convert patients under 18 from gay or lesbian to straight.
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Saturday, Senate Bill 1172 was co-sponsored by state senator Ted Lieu of Torrance, Los Angeles County, and Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) among other state and national advocates for gay rights, and medical and psychological societies.
The law, which is to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013 states that no “mental health provider” shall provide minors with therapy intended to change their sexual orientation, including efforts to “change behaviours or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
State Sen. Ted Lieu introduced the measure based on his belief that so-called conversion therapy is nonscientific and dangerous because in some cases patients have later committed suicide or suffered severe mental and physical anguish.
"No one should stand idly by while children are being psychological(ly) abused, and anyone who forces a child to try to change their sexual orientation must understand this is unacceptable," said Lieu.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association made headlines by denouncing “reparative therapy”. In a report by a six-person committee which began studying the issue in 2007, the APA found that not only is there no evidence that the practice actually works, but it can also lead to depression and suicidal tendencies.
The California move has been welcomed by gay rights campaigners. Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement: Governor Brown has sent a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBT youth and their families. This law will ensure that state-licensed therapists can no longer abuse their power to harm LGBT youth and propagate the dangerous and deadly lie that sexual orientation is an illness or disorder that can be 'cured.'
While the use of harsh aversion techniques, like electric shock or nausea-inducing drugs, to combat homosexual desires has largely disappeared, the proponents of “reparative therapy” or ex-gay ministries today are mostly linked to fundamentalist Christian groups and other right-wing religious organisations. They believe believe that homosexuality is “caused” by emotional wounds in early childhood and, in some cases, early sexual abuse; and thus can be “cured”.
Earlier this year, one leading figure in the "ex-gay" movement renounced the theory that sexual orientation could be changed by therapy. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, one of the leading proponents of reparative therapy, said there could be no cure for homosexuality. Earlier this year, the psychiatrist who pioneered "conversion therapy", Dr Robert Spitzer, retracted his controversial 2001 study and has apologised to the gay and lesbian community.
In 2011, the Hong Kong government's decision to appoint a reparative therapist advocate to train its social welfare staff was criticised by the LGBT community and rights activists.