Ban on Gay 'Conversion' Therapy Left in Place by Supreme Court

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 09, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The United States Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to California's ban on controversial "conversion therapy" for gay children. That means the statute is legal which prohibits licensed therapists from working with gay minors to change their sexual orientation to straight.

It's the second time the Court has passed on an appeal regarding the law, and while not an endorsement of the statute, declining to hear further challenges to the ban effectively leaves Ninth Circuit rulings in the state's favor in effect. Here's a closer look at the case.

Under No Circumstances

California's Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) statute states: "Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age." Disobeying mental health providers can have their licenses revoked. Passed in 2012, the law previously survived a challenge on religious freedom grounds. The latest appeal, based on broader free speech claims, suffered the same fate.

In response to those free speech claims, the Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals drew a distinction from banning speech and prohibiting conduct:

Senate Bill 1172 regulates conduct. It bans a form of medical treatment for minors; it does nothing to prevent licensed therapists from discussing the pros and cons of SOCE with their patients. Senate Bill 1172 merely prohibits licensed mental health providers from engaging in SOCE with minors.

The Supreme Court's refusal to review that decision essentially leaves that reasoning intact.

State of the Nation

Sexual orientation conversion therapy is also prohibited in Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And Ted Lieu, now a U.S. congressman who wrote California's ban as a state senator five years ago, has already introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would take the ban nationwide.

Judging from the Supreme Court's tacit approval of such laws at the state level Lieu's law would likely survive future legal challenges.

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