Supreme Court Upholds Conversion Therapy Ban in Washington State

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed Washington State to continue enforcing its ban on conversion therapy for minors, another blow to the dangerous and discredited practice of endeavoring to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

With a 6-3 vote declining to hear a challenge brought by the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, the Supreme Court allowed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision protecting the law to remain in effect.

Conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas voted to take up the case, with Thomas writing a five-page dissent in which he argued “licensed counselors cannot voice anything other than the state-approved opinion on minors with gender dysphoria without facing punishment.”

“In recent years, 20 States and the District of Columbia have adopted laws prohibiting or restricting the practice of conversion therapy,” Alito wrote in a brief dissent. “It is beyond dispute that these laws restrict speech, and all restrictions on speech merit careful scrutiny.”

The law in Washington allows providers to discuss conversion therapy with patients younger than 18 or recommend that it be administered by a religious counselor, but prohibits licensed therapists from performing it.

Major scientific and medical groups as well as LGBTQ and other civil rights organizations support conversion therapy bans for minors, which have passed in 22 states and D.C. according to the Movement Advancement Project.

Judge Ronald M. Gould, writing for the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, argued in his decision on the case challenging Washington’s ban that, “States do not lose the power to regulate the safety of medical treatments performed under the authority of a state license merely because those treatments are implemented through speech rather than through scalpel.”  

Gould noted that Brian Tingley, a family counselor and advocate for conversion therapy who challenged the law, was still able to communicate about conversion therapy, express his personal views on the subject to his patients, practice conversion therapy on adults, and refer minors to counselors not licensed by the state.

“For decades,” wrote Washington state Attorney General Robert W. Ferguson in a brief, “this court has held that states can regulate conduct by licensed professionals, even if the regulations incidentally impact speech.” 

“Conversion therapy,” he added, “puts minors at risk of serious, long-lasting harms, including increased risks of suicide and depression.”


 This story is from the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBQT Media Association.  

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