Maryland Senate passes ban on conversion therapy for LGBT youth

After a lengthy debate across a partisan divide, the Maryland Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would make it illegal for licensed mental health professionals to offer therapy to minors that is intended to change one's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The legislation now moves to the House, where it faces an uncertain reception. A similar proposal has not received a vote in committee.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, the bill’s sponsor and the first openly gay member of the state Senate, said it could prevent suicides among youths struggling with their sexuality or gender identity.

But Republicans warned the legislation defines conversion therapy too broadly, and that could lead to well-meaning counselors being discouraged from talking to children about those problems, or disciplined for it.

“The definition is so expansive this bill could revoke someone’s license and livelihood by a simple conversation,” said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, of Anne Arundel County. “I wonder if Jesus would have been banned if he had been licensed in Maryland.”

Democrats rejected those arguments, saying the state only has authority over licensed professionals, and not over other individuals or religious officials.

“We should not as a body license people who are going to interfere in the lives of those young people and try to tell them who they are or how they should feel,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat. “If they want to be counseled and they are seeking counseling there’s nothing in this bill that stops that from happening.

The Senate voted 34-12 to send the bill to the House, meaning two Republicans joined Democrats in supporting it.

The vote came a day after the Senate took the rare step of taking a vote on whether to move the bill forward for final approval, and all of the chamber’s 14 Republicans opposed it.

Simonaire said Tuesday the legislation is flawed because “if you truly believe this is child abuse, you’d say child abuse should never occur.”

“This bill says it’s OK unless you’re a licensed professional,” he said. “Either you believe it is child abuse and we deal with it the proper way, or it’s a ruse to get a political viewpoint ... out there.”

But proponents said they have the support of the major professional organizations representing counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, who all already agree that conversion therapy doesn’t work and can be harmful.

Madaleno said lawmakers and those groups agreed that, given concerns that members of President Donald J. Trump’s administration support conversion therapy, Maryland needed to act.

In floor debate, Republicans noted that no Marylander had testified in the bill’s hearing earlier this month that they had personally been harmed by being subjected to conversion therapy. But Madaleno said later that 1,200 Maryland youth had called a suicide prevention hotline for those who identify as LGBT last year.

“These are young people struggling in our state,” he said. “No therapist should try to fix one’s sexual orientation or gender identity because there’s nothing to be fixed.”

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