California Legislator Shelves Bill Intended to Ban Homosexual ‘Conversion Therapy’ After Meeting With Faith Leaders Who Opposed the Proposal

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, watches the debate over a bill during the Assembly session Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Low announced Friday that he is ending his effort this year to pass a bill declaring gay conversion therapy a fraudulent practice.
Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP

The author of a high-profile measure to curb paid “conversion therapy,” which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation, said he is shelving his bill Friday in hopes of finding consensus with religious communities that vigorously opposed the proposal.

The bill by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), which would have designated paid “conversion therapy” services as a fraudulent business practice under the state’s consumer protection law, easily cleared prior legislative hurdles thanks to large Democratic majorities in both chambers, as well as a handful of Republican votes.

But after religious groups assailed the proposal, calling it a threat to their right to practice their faith, Low went on a listening tour to meet with clergy across the state. Low ultimately decided to pull Assembly Bill 2943 before final approval in the Assembly, he said.

“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”

The measure set off an unusually personal debate in the Capitol. Low, who is gay and is chairman of the legislative LGBTQ caucus, spoke emotionally about how he had considered the practice as a teen, closeted and wishing he were straight.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he said in an April speech on the Assembly floor. “There’s nothing that needs to be changed.”

“Conversion therapy,” also known as “reparative” or “reorientation therapy,” is opposed by medical groups including the American College of Physicians and the American Psychological Assn., which cite a lack of evidence of the practice’s efficacy and potential harm to a patient’s mental health. California banned the practice for minors in 2012. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia also prohibit it for minors.

Low’s measure would have expanded that ban by designating the sale of services to change someone’s sexual orientation a “deceptive business practice,” opening counselors and others who perform them to lawsuits.

The bill was staunchly opposed by practitioners and adherents of “conversion therapy,” who argued it deprived adults of the choice to pursue such a practice. Others said the measure infringed on religious practices and could even be used to ban the Bible or other printed materials. The bill was amended to clarify that only services, not goods, would be subject to the law.

Still, faith leaders considered the bill’s language to be overly broad, sparking fears that pastors or church counselors could be subject to lawsuits if they ministered to people grappling with their sexuality.

“If I pray with this person, is that going to come back on this church?” said Kevin Mannoia, chaplain at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college in Azusa.

In the face of intense pushback, Low said he was inspired to meet with religious leaders, including Mannoia, to hear their concerns. He was struck by how many pastors told him they did not personally support “conversion therapy,” but had fears of the bill’s broader implications.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Melanie Mason