On Tuesday, Utah moved to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ children, becoming the 19th and arguably most conservative state to make the pseudoscientific practice illegal.
The push was largely bolstered by support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which a majority of Utah’s state legislature belong. Republican Utah Rep. Craig Hall, who originally sponsored the proposal, praised the rule change in a statement as a measure that “will truly save lives.”
Conversion therapy seeks to reverse an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity by psychological or spiritual intervention. According to the Trevor Project — a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth — the practice can often result in amplified shame and stigma in patients, and parents who send their child to conversion therapy “risk seriously fracturing their relationship with their child.”
In addition to Utah, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted bans on the discredited practice since 2012, and a handful of additional states seem poised to join their ranks in the near future: Florida, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia all have similar bills on deck for the 2020 legislative session.
While the American Medical Association notes that the implicit assumptions of conversion therapy — “that homosexuality and gender identity are mental disorders and that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed” — are “not based on medical and scientific evidence,” the practice is still widespread in many red states across the U.S. We’ve rounded up some of the other states in the U.S. that have banned the practice of conversion therapy in landmark cases that are pushing this measure forward on a national scale.
In a major victory for gay rights activists, California became the first state to pass a ban on conversion therapy in 2012, with then-Governor Jerry Brown signing the law banning children and teens under 18 from undergoing sexual orientation change efforts. In a statement on the historic legislation, Brown said that the ban would target “non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide.” The bill had initially been sponsored by Democratic state Senator Ted Lieu, who said the law was intended as a tribute to a man who committed suicide after undergoing conversion therapy.
Although the Garden State followed California’s lead by moving to ban conversion therapy for children and teens in 2013, LGBTQ+ activists got a scare in 2019 after Liberty Counsel, a national religious and legal organization, sought to challenge the resultant law in the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated First Amendment rights. Eventually, the high court declined to take up the challenge, leaving the New Jersey ban intact.
Most recently, Maine moved to install its own ban on conversion therapy in 2019, after a bill that had passed the state legislature the year prior was vetoed by then-Governor Paul LePage, a Republican. On May 29, 2019, newly-installed Democratic Governor Janet Mills moved to outlaw the practice once and for all, calling it “a harmful, widely-discredited practice that has no place in Maine.”
“By signing this bill into law today, we send an unequivocal message to young LGBTQ people in Maine and across the country: we stand with you, we support you, and we will always defend your right to be who you are,” Mills said during the signing.
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