The Pasadena Senator believes some form of the therapy should be allowed. The therapy is widely discredited by medical groups.
An Anne Arundel County senator defended some forms of a therapy designed to change a child’s sexuality as the Senate voted Tuesday to advance a bill that would bar licensed medical professionals from performing the discredited practice.
State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, argued the state doesn’t have any business telling consenting children and parents what therapy to undergo.
He said therapy shouldn’t be abusive or coercive — such as electroshock therapy — but shouldn’t limit a child who wants to talk to their religious counselor or health care professional about gay, lesbian, transgender or other related feelings.
“I don’t think (conversion therapy) is abuse in every case,” Simonaire said.
The bill describes conversion therapy as “a practice or treatment by a licensed mental health or child care practitioner that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” It does not affect religious groups.
Simonaire said the state was putting its worldview over other people’s religion, including his own Christian faith. He said families should have the choice if they are consenting and the therapy is done in a “loving” way.
Because the bill bars licensed professionals, families could seek the help of less qualified, unlicensed professionals, he said.
After a lengthy debate across a partisan divide, the Maryland Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would make it illegal for licensed mental health professionals to offer therapy advertised to change one's sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill was passed by the Senate in a 32-14 vote on second-reader. It will go before the Senate for a final vote as soon as Wednesday.
It was introduced by state Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, who said the bill would protect children from a medically discredited therapy.
Debate on the issue was lengthy, with several Republicans raising concerns about the bill legislating medical practices or duplicating federal law. They also raised concerns the bill would smother religious beliefs related to gay, lesbian and transgender issues. It also would have a “chilling” effect on counselors who may be concerned about overstepping their bounds, opponents said.
Madaleno and supporters of the bill said it doesn’t affect religious groups and only impacts licensed medical professionals. Counselors will still be able to counsel children, as long as they don’t do so with the goal to convert them or make them heterosexual.
Off the Senate floor, Madaleno described a family who took their child to a therapist who promised to make the child straight. Licensed medical professionals wouldn’t be allowed to do that, he said.
“It will prevent (licensed professionals) from providing a therapy shown not to work,” Madaleno said in an interview. “Adults can’t try to fix someone who is not broken.”
Conversion therapy is given to children to “fix” or “heal” them from homosexuality or gender identity issues, which are considered an illness or mental health issue by some groups. Modern science has rebuked the use of the therapy. The American Psychological Association put together a task force which found conversion therapy to be an improper response to homosexual and transgender children.
“… efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to claims of (conversion therapy) practitioners and advocates,” according to the association’s 2009 report.
“Even though the research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity, the task force concluded that the population that undergoes (conversion therapy) tends to have strongly conservative religious views that lead them to seek to change their sexual orientation.”
Simonaire put forth two amendments that were rejected by the Senate. One of those amendments would have prohibited conversion therapy that abused children under the state’s abuse laws.
This would allow flexibility while barring abusive tactics like coercion and other abuses, Simonaire said.
Conversations on the bill fell along party lines, which is the likely outcome of the third reader vote. Once the bill is passed by the Senate, it will be sent to the House of Delegates. There is a cross-filed house bill, but that bill is still awaiting a hearing in the House.
In 2014, a bill that accomplished a similar goal was withdrawn as legislators looked to solve the problem through regulatory oversight. That bill also did not impact religious groups.