SHORTLY after the start of a lawsuit supported by a Christian legal group – the Pacific Justice Institute – a Californian judge with the reputation of being a “nutcase”, ruled yesterday that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals who engage in wholly discredited “reparative” or “conversion” therapy outweigh concern that the practice poses a danger to young people.
According to this report, US District Court Judge William Shubb, nominated for the bench by George H W Bush, temporarily blocked California from enforcing a first-of-its-kind law that bars licensed psychotherapists from working to change the sexual orientation of gay minors
But he limited the scope of his order to just the three charlatans who appealed to him to overturn the measure.
The judge disputed the California Legislature’s finding that trying to change young people’s sexual orientation puts them at risk for suicide or depression, saying it was based on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies”.
The law, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov Jerry Brown in October, states that therapists and counselors who use “sexual orientation change efforts” on clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards. It is set to take effect on January 1.
Although the ruling is a setback for the law’s supporters, the judge softened the impact of his decision by saying that it applies only to three individuals — psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor who specialises in clients who are unhappy being gay.
The exemption for them will remain in place only until Shubb can hold a trial on the merits of their case, although in granting their request for an injunction, the judge noted he thinks they would prevail in getting the law struck down on constitutional grounds.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter said:
We are disappointed by the ruling, but very pleased that the temporary delay in implementing this important law applies only to the three plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit. 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.
Lawyers for the state argue that outlawing reparative therapy is appropriate because it would protect young people from a practice that has been rejected as unproven and potentially harmful by all the mainstream mental health associations.