Measure to Ban Discredited ‘Conversion Therapy’ Fails in New Hampshire
Posted January 10, 2018 6:32 p.m. EST
Lawmakers in New Hampshire have voted against a proposal to ban “conversion therapy,” a discredited practice that is meant to discourage same-sex attraction.
The bills sought to prohibit counselors from proposing or engaging in treatments to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapy, also called reparative therapy, has been widely condemned, and bans on using it against minors have been enacted in at least nine states and Washington, D.C., as well as other municipalities.
The House bill was defeated by one vote, 166-165, after House Speaker Gene Chandler, a Republican, broke a tie. The Senate version of the bill, which the House was voting on as well, was also narrowly defeated, 170-169, with Chandler’s vote.
Opponents said the bill could have prevented minors from discussing “unwanted” same-sex attraction with a qualified counselor.
“Now, I would be against coercive therapy, but what about those who want help from a professional?” Rep. Mark Pearson, a Republican, said while addressing lawmakers Tuesday before the vote.
The bill is “unnecessary at best,” he added, “and quite possibly harmful to youngsters that want an honest conversation.”
Cornerstone Policy Research, a conservative New Hampshire group that opposed the bill, also raised concerns, suggesting that conversion therapy isn’t an issue in the state.
“No youth or parents have ever filed an ethical complaint against a licensed professional counselor in New Hampshire for forcing someone into therapy,” the group said in a statement.
Supporters of the ban said conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that needs to be stopped.
State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Democrat, introduced the Senate bill in February, after a similar bill failed to pass the Legislature in 2016.
“As a mother of a child who is gay, I want all children to be able to grow up without being told that they should not be who they are,” she said in a statement last year. “New Hampshire families have the right to expect that a licensed therapist will not put their children at risk of harm.”
The New Hampshire Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay and lesbian group, said Tuesday that it was “deeply disappointed” that the measure failed.
“The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association have all denounced reparative, or conversion, therapy as ineffective and potentially harmful,” the group said in a statement.
Conversion therapy, which can include support groups and other types of interventions, aims to suppress same-sex attraction and change one’s sexual orientation.
At least nine states — Nevada, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon and Illinois — have taken steps to prevent mental health professionals from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights and others who track legislation.
Other states, however, have struggled to pass similar laws. Last year, a Colorado Senate committee killed a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors, the third year in a row it had done so, The Gazette reported. Similar bills also failed to advance in Maryland and Virginia.
The treatment promotes feelings of inadequacy and self-hate, Clinton W. Anderson, director of the sexual orientation and gender diversity office at the American Psychological Association, said in a phone interview. Even if someone agrees to behave differently, he added, it doesn’t change who they inherently are.
“People have a lot of control over their behavior,” Anderson said. “But that doesn’t mean that their underlying deeply seated pattern of what we would call sexual orientation has changed.”
The APA doesn’t consider it a problem for a minor to have a same-sex crush, Anderson said, and when emerging sexuality is subjected to such external interventions, there can be damaging consequences.
“It’s very different when you’re talking about a child because they’re still developing,” he added. “What’s that going to do to people? Are they going to look back in 20 years and think, ‘Oh my God, that was abusive to me.'”
Jennifer Horn, co-chair of New Hampshire Log Cabin Republicans, is calling on lawmakers to go back to the drawing board.
“We respect the fact that there are a lot of folks out there that feel like there’s a problem with the language in the bill,” she told WMUR. “If that’s the case, we’d really like to see Republicans step up and lead on getting the language right.”