California Bans Gay Conversion for Minors

This is shocking to me only because it’s the first state to do it, but California has correctly banned the kind of religion-based therapy intended to turn gay kids straight:

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Sunday that he has signed Senate Bill 1172, which prohibits children under age 18 from undergoing “sexual orientation change efforts.” The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, prohibits state-licensed therapists from engaging in these practices with minors.

“Governor Brown today reaffirmed what medical and mental health organizations have made clear: Efforts to change minors’ sexual orientation are not therapy, they are the relics of prejudice and abuse that have inflicted untold harm on young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians,” Clarissa Filgioun, board president of Equality California, said in a press release.

Even Christian group Exodus International — which was best known for promoting this sort of trash — has backed away from conversion therapy in recent months:

“I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included,” said [Alan] Chambers, who is married to a woman and has children, but speaks openly about his own sexual attraction to men. “For someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’ — that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”

Chambers’ approach — stay gay, get opposite-sex-married — isn’t any better, but even he understands you can’t change someone’s sexual orientation.

Now, other states need to follow in California’s footsteps.

(Thanks to Seth for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Alexandra

    I was doing a 40 hr training the other day, so that I can volunteer at the local domestic violence shelter.  Most of the other people in the training were therapists, and one day we were talking about DV and LGBTQ issues, and this one MFT started bitching about how CA just passed a law that made it illegal to counsel LGBTQ youth.  I was MORTIFIED.  I can’t figure out if she just meant that it became too risky, that a patient might accuse her of trying to convert them in therapy, or was I really talking to someone who believes in pray the gay away.

  • Shuteme


  • MargueriteF

    I was very pleased to see this.

  • A3Kr0n

    That’s great that you’re volunteering. It’s sometimes very hard to do that type of work.

  • pagansister

    Excellent move!  

  • 3lemenope


  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Just to update you on this story. 

    The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and Liberty Council have announced that they are going to challenge the law in court

     NARTH is saddened but not surprised by this unprecedented legislative intrusion and will lend its full support to the legal efforts to overturn it. California citizens and especially parents should know the indifference that supporters of this bill have toward their freedom of choice,
     Of course they feel parents should have the right to force their child to change. It’s the same philosophy that thinks its ok to indoctrinate your kids into your political and religious beliefs

     “We are filing on behalf of mental health professionals who find themselves in a catch-22,” Staver said.  Therapists have an ethical obligation to help clients deal with conflict. If a client is experiencing conflict between religious beliefs and same-sex attractions and wants to prioritize those beliefs over such attractions, the counselor is ethically obligated to directly help or refer for help. Under this law, the counselor will be forced to disregard the client’s religious beliefs or change them. “This bill and the ethical codes of all of the licensing boards in California are on an inevitable collision course,” Staver said. “The licenses of countless mental health professionals hang in the balance.”

    Most minors are not seeking over professional help to change their sexual orientation. The parents are the ones that want the change, but they may have convinced their child that they need to change

  • SpaceViking

    Marriage and Family Therapist.

  • 3lemenope


  • Anna

    The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, prohibits state-licensed therapists from engaging in these practices with minors.

    I would imagine that anti-gay parents are probably just going to turn to non-licensed practitioners if they can’t get what they’re looking for elsewhere. Pretty much anyone can advertise as a therapist or counselor, right?

  • Kevin Lewis

    Back again, because this argument is already back again.  Chambers deserves condemnation, not (even faint) praise for what he said here.  He is further feeding into the idea that acceptance of homosexuality can only come hand in hand with acceptance that homosexuality is immutable or innate.

    This tactic may work to win some short-term gains for the LGBT community, but it has a distinct flaw: it paints a large falsifiability condition into a social rights argument.  If the argument goes that we have to accept gay people because we can’t change them, then as soon as anyone learns, or thinks they learn, that gay people can be changed, we’re back to square zero.  

    We shouldn’t have to support LGBT individuals only because they’re born that way – as though they wouldn’t be deserving of our support if they weren’t. 

  • 3lemenope

    I don’t know just how much leeway CA has in enforcing rules about holding oneself out as a therapist, but at the least it makes it far more difficult to get insurance to pay for it if they are unlicensed.

  • Phil

    Chambers argument can be best summed up as “keep your coat on, Junior, and no one will notice.”

  • kenneth

    NARTH has ZERO credibility as a professional or scientific organization. Last time I looked, they’re not even qualified to issue continuing ed credits to their members. One of their founders and leading lights was George Alan Rekers of “rent boy” fame! NARTH’s support is the perfect kiss of death for a “therapy” on par with stone-knife trepanation….

  • Gwen

    Actually (as a CA resident), the law only prevents licensed therapists from using the so called ‘conversion therapy’. I’d guess there are very few still doing it. Where they missed the boat was in that it does nothing to prevent the religious organizations from ‘praying the gay away’, which is where most of the conversion attempts (outside of Marcus Bachmann’s clinic–I know, I know, another state…), are happening.

  • Annie

     Yes, enter Christian life coaches.  Or worse, preachers.

  • Richard Wade

    It could be that the MFT had heard a misinterpretation of the law. As I understand it, the law pertains to licensed psychotherapy providers only, and unfortunately not to unlicensed pray-away-the-gay ministers, or other non-licensed hucksters and con artists. 

    The law does not make it illegal for MFTs and other licensed psychotherapists to counsel LGBTQ youth. Of course they can counsel them. It only makes it illegal to try to counsel them to somehow change their sexual orientation, in essence, to “shrink the gay away.” That has been shown to be completely futile and harmful, and so like other quackery it is prohibited under their license.

  • Alexandra

    She also went on to talk about how terrible it is that CA passed laws about adding lessons to the public school curriculum about queer history and that there isn’t even the option for parents to opt out.  So in the context, I think I was just talking to a dangerous bigot.

    I talked to a social worker friend of mine about it, and she was mentioning that she wasn’t sure that it was appropriate for CA to be legislating this.  That perhaps it should be something that some other regulatory board should handle.  She had a name for who should do it, but I forgot.  Do you have thoughts on that Richard?

  • Phil

    “…CA just passed a law that made it illegal to counsel LGBTQ youth.”

    That is way too typical of religious right deceptive spin.

  • Richard Wade

    Yes, that does sound like she’s a religiously oriented MFT, and she thinks “counseling” LGBTQ clients means saving them from the gay. Ugh! What a destructive thing to do. I never met one of these when I was in the university or during my MFT internship, but I have met their former victims. There was a lot of damage to repair.  Maybe being in California there are simply not as many as elsewhere, or maybe they were just being coy and cagey.

    This is why I’m involved in helping to build a nation-wide referral database for secular counselors who will help people without telling them to “get right with God.”  SUPPORT THE SECULAR THERAPIST PROJECT!

    The California Department of Consumer Affairs has within it boards that grant state licenses for all sorts of professions. The Board of Psychology grants and oversees licenses for Clinical Psychologists, and the Board of Behavioral Sciences does the same for MFTs, LCSWs Educational Counselors, and several other providers. The Medical Board grants licenses to Psychiatrists and other medical doctors.

    I think that many of the stipulations for qualifications, scope and limit of practice, acceptable procedures, and ethical codes are decided by these boards, rather than every word of it all being hammered out in the California legislature, but I’m not certain. If much of it is left up to the boards’ discretion, perhaps this particular issue is so politically charged, and perhaps there are (sadly) enough California-licensed providers like the MFT you described that the legislators decided that this needed the weight of state law rather than merely a regulatory rule by these boards.

  • Greisha

    While it is indeed quackery and nonsense, are there enough hard evidences that this kind of “therapy” actually harms teens? 

    If yes, way to go and why only teens and not everybody?

    If not, it is assault on personal liberty of both providers and customers.  State has no business to interfere, if somebody wants to waste money on nonsense, be it homeopathy or any other nonsensical “therapy”.

  • Bradley Betts

    People seem to be assuming that Chambers is gay and that therefore his marriage is a sham… but has anyone considered the possibility that he might be bi? He doesn’t actually say he’s gay, he just says he’s attracted to men.

  • Rory

     I would assume the focus on teens is on the grounds that we typically trust adults to make their own decisions about what kind of care and counseling they receive, even if they make poor choices. Nothing stops me from going to a homepath rather than a doctor when I’m ill, even though most would agree it’s a poor idea. But a teenager whose parents think homosexuality is evil can be forced into therapy, and so needs protection.

  • amycas

    I see your point, and I agree that it’s a bad tactic to use “they’re born that way” as a reason for giving them rights. In this case though, I think the law is more to protect kids who have been, or would continue to be, harmed by this type of “therapy.” I don’t see this ban as a “you’re born this way” argument; I see it as saying “this therapy specifically harms kids and shouldn’t be allowed to be forced onto them.”

    Edit: I did not realize who you were talking about at first. My bad, I completely agree.

  • lefty

    motherfuckin’ therapist

  • Benny Cemoli

    Well,I guess this was a predictable outcome when you tell the bigots that they can’t do something patently harmful to children.



  • Inthevoid

    Why am I forced to tolerate openly homosexual people in society when I am not allowed my constutionally protected right to free speach by saying a prayer in school if I feel moved to do so, there is no such thing as a freindly atheist or christain gay, homosexuality is a sin according to the bible, if you profess the faith you should follow its rules  or at least try. So if you can’t pray away the gay, then burn faggot.

  • Deven Kale

     You are allowed to say a prayer in school, and anybody who says you’re not doesn’t understand the constitution or legal precedent. A student who says a prayer (as long as they’re not interrupting a class) in school is well within their rights. It’s the teachers and other school officials who are disallowed because they’re government employees.

    As for your other question, you’re forced to tolerate openly homosexual people in society for the same reason that I am forced to tolerate openly christian people or openly muslim people or any other religious group (I’m not equating homosexuality and religion, I recognize that homosexuals have no choice and theists do). Because that’s what we do, tolerate those things we don’t like. The only other option is to ban everything which would inevitably include not only the things we do like, but also our very selves.