What rights should parents of gay children have in Maryland?

Here we go again. The Baltimore Sun — the newspaper that lands in my front yard — recently published a very provocative piece about the next round in our state’s battles between conservative religious believers and gay-rights organizations. In this case, the battle is over the work of the “ex-gay” ministries and, in particular, the rights of religious parents who turn to them for help.

Looking at this from a religion-news perspective, the main problem with the story is that the issue of parental rights is never openly discussed. Instead, it is hidden between the lines of this news feature.

First, a word about comments on this post: Please do not click “comment” in order to express your disgust, or support, for whatever you think “ex-gay” ministries teach or do not teach.

Trust me, if you oppose the work of counselors who believe that men and women can modify their sexual behaviors and attractions, especially those whose sexual orientations can best be described as complex and/or bisexual, your point of view dominates this Sun piece. You may be unhappy that the piece does allow one particular counselor to briefly defend his work and that, at the very end of the piece, there is even a positive quote from one of his adult clients. However, this story — as is becoming the Sun norm on stories about conservative believers — primarily defines his work in terms of material gathered from his enemies and critics.

Meanwhile, after several decades of covering this issue, I do question the fact that the Sun team consistently reports that this counselor’s goal is to “change” the sexual orientation of patients. Just as I have never heard anyone claim that they can “pray the gay away,” I have rarely heard anyone claim that there is some kind of simplistic sexual-orientation switch that can be flipped from gay to straight.

This is how the story states the question in the lede:

Christopher Doyle says he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being gay, but he also believes he can help children and others rid themselves of “unwanted same-sex attractions” through therapy sessions in a tidy suburban home in Bowie.

That has made the licensed psychotherapist the target of intense criticism over the years — so much so, he says, that he closely protects the address of the International Healing Foundation, the nearly 25-year-old nonprofit he runs.

“Unfortunately, we get targeted by activists,” Doyle said in the home on a recent morning.

In the latest salvo aimed at Doyle and his practice, gay rights activists in Maryland say they hope to ban clinical therapy for children that is based on the notion that their sexual orientation can change. They hope to build on success banning the practice in other states, and success here in securing same-sex marriage and protections for transgender residents.

Note, in this case, that the word “rid” is not inside the direct quote.

If Doyle is arguing that it is possible for gay or bisexual people who struggle with same-sex attractions to “rid” themselves of all temptation, then he is a very, very rare ex-gay advocate — especially since he himself is a married man, in a male-female union, who once identified as gay.

A key weakness in this story, from a strictly journalistic perspective, is that Doyle is never really allowed to describe in his own words what he believes about the complex scientific mystery (yes, we are talking about the famous Kinsey Scale) that is sexual orientation. The story — to its credit — does admit that the roots of sexual orientation remain unknown.

This story essentially argues that it should be illegal for anyone to expose children to the belief, and debates about relevant evidence, that sexual behavior can be modified. Should the Maryland legislature be the latest to approve a ban on such discussions? Thus readers are told:

Doyle said he has clients who are “LGBT identified and don’t want to change,” and that he is affirming of their identities. He said he never offers therapies aimed at changing a client’s sexual orientation unless doing so is the client’s personal goal, and that the International Healing Foundation does not believe “coercing” people is ethical.

With young teen clients whose parents are footing the therapy bill — at times with the desire to see their child’s sexual orientation change — Doyle says, he makes it clear that the patient will set the therapeutic agenda.

“If you come to therapy, we’re going to work on what you want to work on,” he said he tells the young people. “If the parents try to push or intervene in that, I make it very clear to them that this is about your son or daughter’s goals, and we’re not going to have that happen.”

At the same time, Doyle said people should have the freedom to leave same-sex attraction behind in favor of heterosexual relationships if they want to, just as he says he did years ago, before marrying his wife.

The story makes it clear that the goal of the legislation is to keep Doyle and counselors who do similar work from working with clients who are not legally adults, in other words young clients who are brought to his office by parents. While government schools in Maryland are offering a progressive, affirming view of gay issues, the legislation would make it illegal for counselors to work with parents who are striving to affirm the religious beliefs that define their home.

Thus, the story faces the challenge — if the goal is journalism, rather than advocacy — of exploring the beliefs and arguments of articulate, qualified authorities on two sides of this dispute.

On one side are those who believe that it is crucial for children not to be exposed to the dangerous belief that sexual behaviors and attractions can be modified or even resisted. On issues of sexual orientation and behavior, the state must be allowed to intervene.

On the other side are those who believe that parents have the legal right to bring their own children to religious and secular counselors who believe that sexual behaviors and attractions can be modified or resisted. This view believes that the state cannot overrule parents in moral and religious disputes of this kind.

Want to guess which side — solo — defines this Sun piece?

Thinking ahead, as journalists should do, this conflict raises interesting questions:

* Should the Maryland legislature prevent parents from sending their children to schools that teach that sexual behaviors and attractions can be modified or resisted?

* Should the legislature challenge the legal status of schools that teach such doctrines? How about home-schooling?

* Since this question hinges on parental rights, should the legislature make it illegal for parents — mostly conservative Christians, Jews and Muslims — who believe that sexual behaviors and attractions can be modified or resisted to legally adopt children in Maryland? Should the state intervene to prevent adopted children from being exposed to the dangerous beliefs and choices of these parents?

Stay tuned.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    So what else is new?? Over the years parents, and their values, and their opinions of how their own children should be raised have been treated shabbily in the media. It would be startling to read or hear a story that the “spin” was in the parent’s direction. (The only exception seems to be FOX. Whenever there is a conflict between government and parents, FOX seems quick to get supportive interviews with the aggrieved parents.)

  • Daniel Merriman

    Once again, the meme has been set by the activists and the media will only serve as a megaphone: therapists offering counseling that might have anything to do with someone possibly even thinking about changing how they deal with their same sex attraction are no better than Dr. Mengele running experiments on concentration camp inmates. Please don’t fail to let us know if you find any exceptions.

  • Jack

    I think that in the pre-teens and adolescence, all sorts of circuits are being turned on and tested that will NOT be part of the mature person when s/he finishes growing up.

    Were such a young person come to me and looking for advice, I’d say, “Don’t worry about it right now. When you’re closer to 20, we might have something to work with.”

  • wmrharris

    For an article written by journalist with a concentration in LGBT studies, this was fairly balanced. In contrast to the standard professional associations, Doyle got plenty of time to explain what he does — there’s a similar article in today’s Washington Post where Doyle also explains his approach.

    Likewise the treatment of the “Acception” video was reasonably neutral — there are far worse reports out there regarding the controversy

    Further, I think the organization of the article does not fully support the notion that the report was arguing for the dropped legislation. Were that case then shouldn’t the wannabe Attorney General, Mr Cardin, have been the lead-off subject? As it was, his role in the legislation coupled with his overt trolling for possible cases have more the whiff of politics than of moral heroism.

    And back to being fair: the background of Doyle’s organization (the International Healing Foundation), his own role as an activist, and the tensions with Exodus International all offer big happy targets,”color,” that sort of a more biased report might easily bring up. Instead, the color palette was fairly neutral.

    • tmatt

      “For an article written by journalist with a concentration in LGBT studies … ”

      URL and source for that claim, please.

      • wmrharris

        The information was from the same link to the Sun’s article. It’s there under “About the Blogger,” top of the right hand column on the front page of the article.

        • tmatt

          Thank you. Totally logical.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    The title of this post itself is suggestive of an issue latent in the article. “What rights should parents have?”

    The whole idea of what rights are is an issue unto itself. Some rights are natural, inhering in the person by virtue of who they are. Such rights are those articulated in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness), which mentions them because they are part of every human being by virtue of being human, rights that can be recognized or abused, supported or violated, by governments. They are prior to and superior to any human law; human laws should reflect rather than try to confer or remove such rights.

    Some rights are conferred, such as the right to vote at a certain age in democratic societies, the right to drive a car if one has a valid license, the right to access public parks at certain times of day for certain purposes, and so on. Such rights can be conferred, removed, or limited by the judgment of due governmental authority.

    Parents have natural rights with respect to their children. Children also have natural rights that parents could violate – the right to a safe upbringing, the right to be educated adequately to have a positive role in the society in which they live, and so on. But in providing for their children and seeing to their needs and rights, parents have natural rights to do what is in their judgment best. Parents whose judgments are defective and endanger or neglect their children risk legitimate intervention by the state to remove the children.

    That is a very dangerous power of the state when abused. It is also the principle at work: Parents who intervene with their children’s sexual urges and activities have defective judgment and the state needs to intervene.

    The article seems to argue from the standpoint that the children’s rights are implicitly natural, but the parents’ rights are implicitly conferred. The notion is that children somehow know better than their parents regarding sex.

    The principle at work has been in place for a while. Girls can get services of health professionals, birth control drugs and devices, and surgical procedures such as abortions without parental consent because of their rights, but parental permission is needed for a school nurse to give kids Tylenol for a headache, or to go on a field trip to an art museum. Schools can give students sexually explicit “literature” as part of English or health classes without parental permission because the state has determined this is part of children’s rightful education that many parents fail at.

    The real question is, what rights to parents and children have in these cases, and what is the state’s role regarding them?

  • HenryBowers

    This will lead to the round-up of orthodox priests and religious, all according to plan. Guantanamo Bay justly imprisoned Muslims as practice for the upcoming, unjust mass-imprisonment of Christians. Only nominalism could refer to the truth as child abuse.

    • tmatt

      And what is your comment on the actual journalism issue I raised in this post? This is a journalism site.

  • April Spring

    Our nation is lost and confused, but cry no more because the Springtime is here!

    Come Join the Magnificent Revolution!:

    http://www.treeoflifetheology.org


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