(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — A college student who claims he once had same-sex attractions but became heterosexual after conversion therapy has filed a lawsuit against California, which has enacted a law that bans so-called “gay cures” for minors.
The lawsuit, also joined as plaintiffs by two therapists who have used the treatments with patients, alleges that the law banning the therapy intrudes on First Amendment protections of free speech, privacy and freedom of religion.
The student, Aaron Blitzer, who is studying to be a therapist in that field, said the law would prevent him from pursuing his career, according to court papers filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
The lawsuit names as defendants California Gov. Jerry Brown, as well as 21 other state officials, including members of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Medical Board.
The other plaintiffs are Donald Welsch, a licensed family therapist and ordained minister who operates a Christian counseling center in San Diego; and Dr. Anthony Duk, a psychiatrist and practicing Roman Catholic.
Both say the law would restrict their counseling practices, according to the lawsuit.
“It’s an egregious violation of the rights of young people feeling same-sex attraction, and of parents and counselors who feel it would be beneficial for the individual needs of a young person,” said Brad Dacus, president and attorney for the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, which asked a federal judge to prevent the law from taking effect.
“The legislature had an errant assumption that every individual struggling with same-sex attraction is caused by their DNA,” he said. “It ignores thousands, including the plaintiff, who have gone through therapy and are now in a happy and healthy heterosexual relationship.”
Dacus declined ABC News’ request for direct access to the plaintiffs.
Just this week, California lawmakers voted to outlaw therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors who say they are gay, making California the first state to adopt such legislation. The law is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The bill’s sponsor, California state Sen. Ted Lieu, said the therapy — called “conversion therapy,” “sexual orientation therapy,” “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts” — amounts to “psychological child abuse.”
“I read the lawsuit and, as a matter of fiction, it is a good read,” Lieu said in a prepared statement after the suit was filed. “But from any reasonable legal standard, the lawsuit is frivolous. Under the plaintiffs’ argument, the First Amendment would shield therapists and psychiatrists from medical malpractice and psychological abuse claims simply because they use speech in practicing their medicine. That is a novel and frivolous view of the First Amendment.”
Lieu is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Several members of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Mental Board were named in the lawsuit.
“Our board voted to support that piece of legislation after working with the author’s office to further define sexual orientation change efforts,” said Kim Madsen, executive officer for the sciences board, which licenses and oversees therapists.
She had no comment on the lawsuit, but said the board would investigate any complaints of conversion therapy after Jan. 1.
The law’s critics say that it infringes on the rights of families and therapists, particularly young people who have same-sex attractions as a result of being victims of sexual abuse.
Dacus said the law makes them “victims twice, as a result denying them counseling and healing.”
He said that counseling in “direct violation” of religious or personal beliefs “only precipitates greater confusion and depression and the likelihood of suicide.”
“This legislation is a classic example of psychiatric ignorance combined with political neglect,” he said, complaining of “compromises” that members of the California Psychiatric Association made with state legislators to enact the law.
“They clearly say that one size fits all and ignore the complexity of same-sex attraction and varying degrees of such attraction, depending on age and background,” said Dacus. “It’s out of place for the legislature to put such restrictions on it.”
Members of the California Psychiatric Association have “mixed feelings” about the law, according to Randal Hagar, director of government relations for the organization.
“There is no psychiatrist who would engage and practice it and, if they did, they would be subject to ethical sanctions,” he said.
The American Psychiatric Association has outlawed conversion therapies for more than a decade, insisting they are harmful.
On the other hand, said Hagar, the CPA is concerned about any bill that “basically prescribes any kind of treatment” or one that might lead “downstream” to someone legislating against another practice “they don’t like.”
“The difference here is that there is a very strong public policy argument that says why this practice ought to be limited,” he said. “There is no evidence it does what it purports to be. It is, in essence, fraud … and there is other evidence that it does harm. It concerns us greatly.”
The CPA negotiated for months with legislators to hone language on the bill so that therapists could address “legitimate” talks on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, according to Hagar.
“We were wary of a form of the bill where they can’t possibly engage in a discussion,” said Hagar, who noted that the association supported the final version of the bill.
They also leaned on another precedent: Electroconvulsive shock therapy is highly regulated with judicial oversight.
“You can’t give it to minors — period,” he said.
“I think the bill is clear and clean and did have a definition of supportive exploratory therapy that leads [minors with same-sex attractions] to be accepting and see themselves as a person of strength rather than a flawed person,” he said.
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