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December 14, 2012

Two opposite rulings on California’s law banning ‘change’ therapy

Sacramento--Two federal judges issues contradictory rulings on December 3 and 4, one ruling that California’s new law banning “conversion therapy” for minors can go forward, the other ruling that it probably violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

Judge William B. Schubb ruled that the suit filed by two mental health professionals and a former patient who is studying to be a therapist would likely succeed, so he ordered that the law could not be enforced against the three plaintiffs until the case is decided.

The law, passed in September, is slated to go into effect on January 1. It bars mental health professionals from using therapy in attempt to “change” a child or teen’s sexual orientation.

Schubb’s ruling was deliberately narrow. “The public has an interest in the protection and mental well-being of minors, and the court does not take lightly the possible harm sexual orientation change efforts may cause minors, especially when forced on minors who did not choose to undergo” the therapy, he wrote, according to Bloomberg news service. Since the order is so limited, though, Schubb has “no difficulty in concluding that protecting an individual’s First Amendment rights outweighs the public’s interest in rushing to enforce an unprecedented law.”

State attorneys argue that the law does not violate freedom of religion because it applies to people in their positions as licensed medical professionals. Presumably, that view would be used to argue against someone refusing to treat someone because the doctor did not agree with their religion, sexual orientation, or other factor.

The day after Schubb’s ruling, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller held that two former patients and their parents in her case would likely not prevail, and refused to issue an injunction blocking the law from taking effect. Mueller’s decision was appealed by Liberty Counsel, a religious-right law firm.

Virtually every major professional organization in the mental health and pediatric fields opposes “conversion therapy,” arguing that it does not work and can cause severe psychological damage, especially when it fails to yield the “desired” results.

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