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‘Cured’ student, anti-gay groups sue California over ban on reparative therapy for minors

Friday, October 5, 2012
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Therapists who purportedly counsel gay and lesbian patients into heterosexuality and two anti-gay organizations have filed lawsuits seeking an injunction against California’s recently approved ban on reparative therapy for minors.

Known as Senate Bill 1172, the law prohibits licensed mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and family therapists, from using sexual orientation change therapy and other “reparative” methods with clients under the age of 18. The ban targets any practices that seek to change sexual orientation or behavior and gender expression.

After months of lobbying and objections, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1172 into law on Sept. 30. The state said its law aimed to protect “the physical and psychological well-being of minors from the serious harms of sexual orientation change efforts.”

In the first lawsuit, filed Monday and led by the Christian legal group Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), plaintiff Aaron Bitzer says he formerly experienced same sex attractions before a successful round of “reparative therapy.”

Bitzer, who is studying to be an ex-gay therapist himself, claims that California’s law prevents him from sharing his experience with minors experiencing the same thoughts.

The co-plaintiffs in the case are Donald Welsch, a minister and family therapist who operates a Christian counseling center in San Diego; and Dr. Anthony Duk, a psychiatrist.

The therapists claim that their practice puts them in contact with minor patients who are struggling with issues relating to sexual orientation or experience sexual identity confusion, reported Courthouse News Service.

They say the ban prevents them from treating minor patients with either counseling or prescription medications to help them control their unwanted sexual behavior and attractions, and forces them to discriminate against such patients based on their sexual orientation.

“The statute materially interferes with the plaintiff mental health professionals’ exercise of their independent professional judgment in providing treatment to minors who have unwanted same sex behaviors or attractions,” the complaint states.

“As such, the statute requires the plaintiff mental health professionals to discriminate against minors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning youth. This is in violation of these plaintiff mental health professionals’ obligations under the rules of professional ethics to provide treatment to persons regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the lawsuit “a desperate, last ditch effort to defend the indefensible.”

“The plain fact is that every mainstream medical and mental health association in the country has warned that these practices are ineffective and dangerous. The state has a clear duty to protect minors from harm, and that is exactly what this law does,” said Kendell.

A second lawsuit, filed Thursday by the anti-LGBT group Liberty Counsel, names as plaintiffs two Southern California boys, ages 14 and 15, who have been undergoing “reparative therapy” with Encino, Calif. psychologist Joseph Nicolosi.

The suit claims the ban violates the teens’ freedom of speech and freedom of religion by denying them the chance to be cured of “unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Nicolosi is also named as a plaintiff, as are the boys’ parents, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the American Association of Christian Counselors.

Under the law, slated to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. mental health providers who use sexual-orientation-change therapy on clients under 18 would face disciplinary proceedings by a state licensing board for engaging in unprofessional conduct.

Both federal complaints are pending in Sacramento.

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