A federal judge has temporarily blocked California from enforcing a first-of-its-kind law that bars licensed psychotherapists from working to change the sexual orientations of gay minors.
U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb made a decision just hours after a hearing on the issue, ruling that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals who engage in “reparative” or “conversion” therapy outweigh concern that the practice poses a danger to young people.
“Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech,” Shubb wrote.
The law, which was passed by the California 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 Jan. 1.
Although the ruling is a setback for the law's supporters, the judge made clear that the ruling only applies to three people -- psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor who specializes in clients who are unhappy being gay.
The exemption for them will remain in place only until a trial can be held on the merits of their case. However, the judge noted he thinks they would prevail in getting the law struck down on constitutional grounds.
“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.” National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter said. “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.”
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