BOSTON (AP) | Massachusetts House lawmakers have approved legislation that would ban so-called gay conversion therapy for minors.
Supporters of the ban say the practice — which aims to alter a person’s sexual orientation — is widely discredited by medical and mental health associations and can lead to depression and suicide in young people.
Opponents say the ban would impose criminal liability on health professionals who counsel children struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender confusion.
Supporters of the bill say it wouldn’t impose criminal liability.
The House passed the bill March 13 by a 147-8 vote. It now heads to the Senate.
A similar bill was approved by lawmakers last summer but stalled in the session’s final hours. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has said he’s inclined to sign the measure.
The bill would make Massachusetts the 16th state to adopt a ban.
Democratic State Rep. Kay Khan, the bill’s sponsor, said the language was carefully crafted to protect First Amendment rights — something critics say the ban would infringe upon.
Rep. Sarah Peake said that when she decided to come out as a lesbian, one of the scariest challenges she faced was telling her parents.
“It was scary because I had many friends who when they came out to their parents, their parents took them to what we know now to be sort of a quack therapist to put them into conversion therapy,” the Provincetown Democrat said. “My friends were miserable. They were isolated from their parents. They were isolated from their community. They were isolated from their natural support group.”
Rep. Shawn Dooley opposed the ban, which he said is too restrictive.
The Norfolk Republican asked what might happen if an 8-year-old boy came into a doctor’s office saying he thinks he is an 8-year-old girl.
“Maybe that therapist wants to push back. Maybe that child isn’t transgender. Maybe that child’s gay. Maybe that child’s bi. Why not give every opportunity for that therapist to explore that? Why can’t the therapist say `no, you’re not’,” Dooley said. “We are taking away that ability of the therapist. We are taking away that ability to have some further discussion.”
Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith said the ban would prevent parents from taking their children for any therapy, because no professionally trained counseling would be available that aligns with their convictions.
“Counselors should be free to act in the best interest of a child, and parents should be free to choose a wait and see approach if a minor child wants gender reassignment surgery,” Beckwith said in a written statement.
The bill would still allow non-licensed religious or faith-based counselors to provide pastoral counseling. The ban would continue to allow adults to seek conversion therapy if they want.
Advocates pushing for the ban said being LGBTQ is not a disease that requires a cure.
Arline Isaacson of the Coalition to Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors said passage of the bill will end up “protecting young people from undergoing the fraudulent and harmful treatments of forced conversion therapy.”