Supreme Court refuses challenge to California ban on 'gay conversion' therapy

Supreme Court refuses challenge to California ban on 'gay conversion' therapy
The US Supreme Court will not hear a minister's challenge to a California law that bans discredited "gay conversion" therapy targeting those under age 18. A lower court has said the law is not unconstitutional, as plaintiffs have claimed.

The California law barring so-called conversion therapy for minors has survived a second challenge in three years, as the Supreme Court announced Monday it will let stand a lower court's decision.

That ruling, issued in October by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, said the state law was both constitutional and did not infringe on the free exercise of religion, nor did it restrict the activities of clergy members who issued the challenge.

Passed in 2012, the state law prohibits a state-licensed mental health provider "from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts … with a patient under 18 years of age." Such efforts can pose a wide-range of health and psychological risks to minors, including depression, substance abuse and suicidality, according to research by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Conversion therapy is based on the belief that homosexuality is "a mental illness or developmental disorder," the APA said in 2009.

The American Psychiatric Association has called the therapy unethical, and a host of other mainstream health care and social work organizations have also denounced the practice.

Conversion therapy methods can include "nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts" and "using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions," among many other tactics, the APA said in 2009.

New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and the District of Columbia have similar laws that restrict the practice of conversion therapy on minors, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The plaintiffs in Welch v. Brown, including ordained evangelical minister and licensed family therapist Donald Welch, claimed the state law was unconstitutional and violated their free exercise of religion.

A previous challenge to the California law, based on an infringement of free speech rights, was rejected by courts in 2014.

Last year, the Republican Party included for the first time in its official platform what manyconsidered some level of advocacy for conversion therapy. The party said it supported "right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children." In addition, Vice President Mike Pence has distanced himself from what is perceived as past support for the practice.

Last week, Democrats in the US House and Senate said they plan to reintroduce legislation that would ban conversion therapy nationwide.

"So-called ‘conversion therapy’ isn’t therapy at all—it’s a tortuous, fraudulent practice that has been repeatedly condemned by medical professionals and has no place in our country," said Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).