A judge has temporarily exempted three mental health professionals from a California law that prohibits them from attempting to change the sexual orientation of minors, while another judge has refused to block the law from taking effect.
Ordained minister and family therapist Donald Welch, psychiatrist Anthony Duk, and therapist-in-training Aaron Bitzer filed suit against the law, which is set to go into effect the beginning of 2013, because it allegedly violated their free speech rights.
In granting the plaintiffs their request to block the law, U.S. District Judge William Shubb ruled on Monday that prohibiting so-called reparative or ex-gay therapy "lacks content and viewpoint neutrality" in violation of the First Amendment.
"SB 1172 draws a line in the sand governing a therapy session and the moment that the mental health provider’s speech 'seek[s] to change an individual’s sexual orientation,' including a patient's behavior, gender expression, or sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex, the mental health provider can no longer speak," he wrote in his order.
The California legislature approved legislation in August to prohibit mental health providers from practicing reparative on minors. California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez described reparative therapy as an "abusive practice in the guise of therapy." California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called reparative therapy "quackery" and signed the bill into law in September.
LGBT rights advocates were upset by the ruling, but took solace in the fact that it only applied to three individuals.
"The judge stressed that he was willing to issue the ruling in part because it is temporary and applies only to three individuals. We are confident that as the case progresses, it will be clear to the court that this law is fundamentally no different than many other laws that regulate health care professionals to protect patients," said Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
In a separate ruling, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on Tuesday refused to block the law from taking effect, noting that California lawmakers had prohibited a practice "deemed unproven and potentially harmful to minors by ten professional associations of mental health experts."
Equality California Executive Director John O'Connor said he was "extremely pleased that the court’s decision will allow the law to go into effect on January 1, 2013 as planned, and young people in this state will no longer have to fear that they can be subjected to these dangerous practices by licensed therapists."
[Young man with Gay Pride flag via Shutterstock]