Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Press Release

State Legislation & Policy

Federal Appeals Court Lets Stand California Law Protecting Youth from Dangerous Anti-Gay “Conversion” Therapies

(San Francisco, CA, January 29, 2014)—Today, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit let stand an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same court upholding Senate Bill 1172, a California statute enacted in 2012 that protects minors from dangerous and ineffective mental health treatments that falsely claim to be able to change a young person’s sexual orientation.

The California Legislature enacted the law to prevent state-licensed mental health professionals from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of minor patients. The Legislature based the law on the unanimous consensus of the nation’s leading medical and mental health associations that such purported treatments have no scientific basis and put children at risk of serious harms, including depression and suicide.

In the lawsuit that the Ninth Circuit ruled in today, the statute was challenged by therapists who wish to engage in these practices on minor patients and who argued that the law violated their right to freedom of speech.  In August 2013, a panel of the Ninth Circuit held that California’s law was a permissible regulation of medical treatment to protect public health and safety and did not violate the free speech rights of therapists. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling today allows that decision to stand, thereby ensuring that California’s law will remain in effect.

California’s law was defended in the case by California Attorney General Kamala Harris and by Equality California, the lead sponsor of the legislation and California’s largest organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Equality California was represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firm of Munger, Tolles, & Olson LLP.

Three of the Ninth Circuit’s 27 active judges dissented from today’s ruling, based on disagreement with the original panel’s reasoning. The dissenting judges took no position on whether the statute is valid, stating: “The regulation at issue may very well constitute a valid exercise of California’s police power[.]”

New Jersey enacted a similar law in 2013. A federal district court upheld New Jersey’s law on November 8, 2013, and that law is currently the subject of an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In that litigation, NCLR represents Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBT rights organization.

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.: “Today’s decision affirms that California can protect young people and their families from being deceived and harmed by unethical therapists who falsely claim they can change a person’s sexual orientation. These practices have no scientific basis and can cause serious, lasting harms that devastate families and destroy young lives. California has a duty to protect the public from deceptive and unsafe practices by medical professionals who are licensed by the state. The Legislature did the right thing by enacting this protective law, and the ruling today strongly confirms that other states should follow California’s example and adopt similar laws.

Added Equality California Executive Director John O’Connor: “Equality California is proud to have sponsored and defended this important law. We are grateful to Senator Ted Lieu for authoring it and to Governor Brown for signing it. We are also grateful for medical and mental health associations that supported the law and helped to educate the legislature about the serious dangers posed by scientifically baseless efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. No ethical professional should put a young person’s life and well-being at risk by engaging in these ineffective and dangerous practices. Every young person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and to be valued for who they are.”

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