Oklahoma House committee OKs bill protecting conversion therapy providers


OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislation that would protect the practice of therapy that seeks to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity in Oklahoma was approved by a state House committee Tuesday.

OklahomaAs other states ban or consider prohibiting so-called conversion therapy, Oklahoma’s Children, Youth and Family Services Committee approved the bill 5-3 without debate and sent it to the full House.

The measure will likely face a tougher audience there, as medical, psychological and sociological professional organizations that have condemned the practice mobilize their opposition to it.

California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have passed measures to ban some conversion therapy, which can involve prayer, psychological counseling or a range of practices designed to eliminate or reduce same-sex attractions, and similar bills have been filed in other states, including Colorado, Iowa and Oregon.

The author of the Oklahoma bill said it’s is intended to head off any efforts to ban conversion therapy in the state. Opponents say the measure is the first of its kind in the U.S.

“Several states have embarked on banning conversion therapies because of the harmful – and often brutal and inhumane – tactics utilized,” Mary Jo Kinzie, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said in a statement released before the committee’s meeting.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, said the measure “protects the child abuser, rather than the child.”

“We have a duty to protect young people, and should never be in the business of creating new avenues for victimization,” Stevenson said in a statement.

The measure says parents may obtain counseling or therapy for children under 18 without interference by the state. An amendment approved by committee members removed pastor and youth minister from the list of mental health providers authorized to provide the therapy.

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No opponents spoke against the measure during the hearing although two people spoke in support of the bill.

“This is a bill to protect parental rights,” said Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who chairs the committee and wrote the measure. “It is prudent for us to make sure that we protect our children.”

Kern, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, once described homosexuality as a greater threat to the United States than terrorism.

She has also introduced a bill where judges or court clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples would lose their jobs.

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