CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A young Republican lawmaker is proposing legislation in New Hampshire to ban therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors, a move that is sure to cause friction within the GOP when lawmakers reconvene in January.
State Rep. Eric Schleien, 27, said he doesn’t think it’s possible to change someone’s sexual orientation through so-called conversion therapy, and research has led him to believe trying to do so can be dangerous. But some fellow Republican lawmakers say the effort could undermine religious liberty and parental rights.
“I think our culture grows stronger when we’re able to accept different people’s lifestyles and treat people with honor and respect. I don’t think that’s that radical,” Schleien said. “You can’t convert people’s sexuality. I think most people get that.”
If Schleien’s bill passes, New Hampshire would become the fifth state to ban the practice. The American Psychological Association and other major health organizations have discredited its efficacy, but some Republican lawmakers think the practice is appropriate.
“There’s no way anyone’s going to convince me that it’s proper or good to ban therapy for children, or a person of any age, that thinks that they are or want to be a gender other than what they biologically are,” Rep. David Bates, 52, said.
Schleien said he expects opposition will center on parental rights or religious liberty. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide earlier this year ignited a new fight over religious liberty, with some people arguing that being forced to recognize gay marriage violates religious freedom.
“We always see backlash when a minority group starts to gain rights,” said Samantha Ames of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is driving a nonpartisan campaign to ban the therapy nationwide. “Unfortunately, this particular backlash is falling on our youth.”
Research shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers who go through the therapy are at higher risk of suicide, substance abuse and depression. The White House announced support for state bans earlier this year.