Let me start by saying: My personal, non-medical, non-expert (but Old Married People do know a thing or two) opinion is that “conversion therapy” is a lousy idea. I think this because I think human sex drives are pretty deeply embedded in the brain.
I think, therefore, that even when we don’t like some aspect of our sexual inclinations, and even when for very good reasons we determine we must not act on our internally-driven desires, it is healthier and more realistic to seek out effective coping mechanisms than to pin our hopes on somehow, someway simply not being interested anymore.
Just not interested anymore is appealing in theory, but in practice I’m not convinced it’s really a thing. I’m very not convinced that one can successfully create a new, replacement attraction as a substitute for the unwanted attraction.
–> I think it’s disastrous to, say, enter into a marriage with a person you previously would have found categorically sexually unattractive, but now somehow you’ve hyped yourself up into a series of positive affirmations that will make that person someone you want to engage in the marital act with for the next fifty years?
I could, here, be completely wrong. But I wanted to state my opinion before continuing, so you know where I’m coming from.
Even though I firmly believe this, and therefore would not advise someone to pursue “conversion therapy,” I was alarmed this morning to see that the City of Columbia, SC (the state capital) passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy.
Because it is the banning of thought. In the case of “conversion therapy,” it’s the banning of just wanting and trying to think something. Conversion therapy bans make it illegal to try to think about what it is you wish to think about.
When on further reading I saw that the ban only applied to minors, for a moment I was relieved. I am strongly opposed to allowing minors to pursue elective procedures that permanently remove or disable major organ systems. Anyone who isn’t old enough to know whether it’s okay to have a beer or a cigarette is not old enough to know whether it’s okay to remove a healthy, fully-functioning body part.
So I thought to myself: Maybe the ordinance is okay. Maybe it’s a broader protection-of-minors thing.
Nope. Not so. The text of the ordinance can be found by downloading the June 15, 2021 meeting agenda packet, found here.
And reading the text of the ordinance (you’ll have to dig a bit into the agenda packet to get to it) you can see that some people don’t understand civil rights.
The ordinance struggles, mightily, because it wants to ban “any practice that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity” but without banning “counseling that provides support to a person undergoing gender transition”. (Section 14-171 of Ordinance 2021-021)
Alas, gender transition just means changing one’s gender identity, soo . . . you aren’t allowed help someone try to change their gender identity except when you’re trying to help them change their gender identity?
The intent of the council is unequivocal, but the text of the ordinance ends up being meaningless, because the council wants to protect some kinds of gender-identity changes, but not all.
(Also, amusing note: They explicitly define “sexual orientation” as referring to practices and preferences “between consenting adults” and explicitly exclude preferences or practices “between an adult and a minor” but make no mention of preferences between consenting minors, which means that . . . the ordinance defines itself into non-existence. –> If you’re under-18, you are too young to be experiencing the ordinance’s definition of “sexual attraction”. Again, clearly what the council meant to do was say it’s okay to treat someone for pedophilia. But instead they accidentally made a definition that categorically excludes the subjects of the ordinance from the definition. Sigh.)
What could the council do instead?
You could decide that the care of minors is something that City Council doesn’t need to legislate. There is already a vast state-run social services edifice in place, but if the city wants to improve community outreach so that vulnerable teens have better access to various support systems, that is within the city’s scope, inasmuch as it involves improving the staffing of various city services (police, recreation centers, etc.).
In contrast, medical decisions, including decisions about psychiatric care, are the cooperative responsibility of the minor and his or her parents, in consultation with physicians or mental health care providers of their choice. It is not the job of the city to dictate what types of care a child or teen might wish to pursue.
Of course city council members care about the well-being of the youth in their jurisdiction. Of course they want parents to feed their children healthy foods, get them outdoors for sunshine and exercise, and please don’t mix alcohol and Tylenol, ever. And yet, it isn’t the job of city council to legislate, item by item, what kinds of care may or may not be sought out by persons living within city limits.
But, even more than the question of subsidiarity, there’s the deeper problem with this ordinance: It’s thought-police, plain and simple.
That the council worked so darn hard to make sure that one type of care was banned while an identical but culturally-opposite type of care was protected, and that they worked so hard to make such a distinction and were unable to write a text that succeeded in doing so, makes it abundantly clear that the purpose of the ordinance is to favor one way of thinking about human sexuality while prohibiting another.
Not a way of acting, mind. A way of thinking. Psychological care is the care of your mental faculties. Your thoughts.
Banning a certain way of thinking is just dumb.
It’s bad civil rights.
The freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly are all built on freedom of thought.
Bringing this back to the Catholic: People in power tend to want to suppress the opposition. People out of power tend to want to campaign for absolute freedom of expression.
As Catholics, we believe that our thoughts are so important they can even determine our eternal destiny. Therefore, when the Church has a political majority, it’s tempting to use that political power to enforce right thinking.
That temptation leads to evil. It starts with a good desire, but ends in bloodshed and lying. It ultimately sabotages the faith rather than shoring it up.
Because we care about our fellow men, we should try to encourage and guide others towards the truth. Coercion, however, does no favors.
I concede here that I was raised a fervent American patriot and only came into my own as a Catholic much later. My love for the Bill of Rights absolutely colors my thinking. I don’t know that I even could think objectively about a case for abolishing the US Constitution as we know it.
So I guess I plead a case of here-I-stand-can-do-no-other: Freedom of thought is foundational to civil society. Thought-policing is evil.
Please do not support bills and ordinances that dictate what kinds of thinking are legal, regardless of whether you agree with the general goal of the legislation.
Photo of car with the Bill of Rights written out on the driver’s side doors, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 2.0. Probably going to have to make me one of these.