A few days ago, the California Assembly passed SB1172, a bill which bans reparative “ex-gay” therapy for minors. It now goes back to the California Senate for a concurrence vote then to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. The full text of the bill can be found here.
Personally, I am pleased with the decision of the California legislature to prohibit reparative therapy by licensed professionals to minors. As one who went through reparative therapy, both before and after I turned 18, I find that such a law is essential in protecting those children whose parents think they “know” what is best for their child and seek to subject them to this form of abuse. Yet not all have been pleased with this development – and no, I am not just talking about those on the religious right. A few days ago, I was on twitter, and was having a discussion with a gentleman who was more cautious than overjoyed about the California legislature’s passage of the law. Though he understood the damage that reparative therapy has upon individuals, he was more libertarian in his views and did not believe that it was appropriate for the California legislature to pass a law dictating that parents could not seek such therapy for their children. He also wondered where we draw the line when it comes to what parents can or cannot do to their children.
Though I appreciate that critique, and I am one of the first people to say that adults should be able to undergo such therapy if they choose too, I feel that children should be treated just a bit differently. There are a few reasons why I feel this way.
First, we allow adults to undergo things that may not be “good” for them, because they have the ability to make that personal decision. In the case of minors, it is often not them making the decision to go and see a doctor who practices reparative therapy. Instead, it is their parents making that decision. The protection of autonomy that is essential from a libertarian/small government point of view, does not apply to a minor, because the minor is not truly autonomous.
Yet, some would argue that through this law we are restricting a parent’s right to raise their child how they see fit. That is correct, yet that denial of parental rights sounds worse than it actually is. We have many laws which do not allow a parent full control over their child; they cannot beat them, allow them to drive when they are under 16, or buy them alcohol. We have these laws because we as a society have recognized that parents have to have certain limits upon how they raise their children. Parents do not raise their children in a vacuum, but instead society has to deal with the repercussions of how that child was raised. Thus, though society cannot, and should not, dictate how a parent raises their child, there are limits – very few limits – to what a parent can do with their child. In my opinion, reparative therapy should fall into this limitation. It should not be the parents right to force their children into a program that demeans and causes psychological damage to their child, especially because that child has done nothing wrong.
Second, this restriction has another affect, yet one that is not readily apparent. Under this law, when a parent seeks out professional help for their child’s “sickness”, they will be informed that licensed professionals do not engage in therapy that seeks to change a minor’s sexuality. This is a good thing because parents often do not realize that reparative therapy is a form of emotional abuse. They often don’t realize the consequences of such therapy and instead think that being LGBT is just a “phase” that can be dealt with through therapy. Though it may be my optimism, I hope that when that parent seeking to change their child’s sexuality hears that a professional counselor does not practice reparative therapy, it may cause them to second guess their position and maybe even do a little more research into exactly what it is they want to put their child through.