California's Ban on Self-Determination

In an unprecedented assault on individual liberty and parental rights, California Governor Jerry Brown released a statement on September 30 after signing SB1172 into law, banning 'nonscientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. "These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery," wrote Brown.

Beginning in 2013, anyone under the age of eighteen in the state of California whose personal, family, or religious values are at odds with their homosexual feelings will be forbidden to seek help from a mental health practitioner unless the clinician tells them to accept their homosexual feelings and identify themself as gay. To do otherwise, says the law, would be harmful and potentially lead youth into depression and self-harm.

On its face, it sounds very reasonable. What levelheaded politician (or anyone else, for that matter) would support a therapy that makes young people want to kill themselves? But when one examines the evidence underlying this law, it smells more of activism masquerading as science.

Underpinning SB1172 is a 2009 American Psychological Association (APA) report from the Task Force on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation (interestingly enough, just one year previous, the same organization declared that there is no scientific evidence to conclude that people are essentially born homosexual ).

The Task Force was to conduct a systematic review of peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), and from this, advise its 150,000 members at large regarding the safety and efficacy of SOCE. As the world's largest organization of psychologists, the Task Force was fully aware of the policy implications its recommendation would have on the practice of SOCE.

Because there is insufficient time and space to describe in this article the number of problems with this report, I will list just a few.

First, the Task Force made several conclusions about the safety and efficacy of SOCE that was not supported by the scientific literature. Essentially, they faulted the research on SOCE based on certain methodological flaws, yet cited studies with similar flaws to support their own pre-conceived conclusions for gay-affirmative psychotherapy. In fact, a partiality to promote gay-affirmative psychotherapy , a specific form of counseling that encourages same-sex attracted persons to accept and embrace homosexuality, and is opposed to SOCE, was evident throughout the report. They went onto recommend the use of gay-affirmative psychotherapies without applying the same overly critical and rigid standards as they demand of SOCE.

A second flaw of the report was the way the Task Force was assembled. One of the Task Force's principle rationales for the creation of their report was that advocates who opposed SOCE and those who promoted SOCE asked for such a report. However, when it came to assembling the Task Force, advocates who were pre-opposed to SOCE were actually chosen to be members of the Task Force, while no proponents of SOCE were selected. It would seem logical that the committee be composed of a diverse panel of psychologists and research experts to ensure a fair and objective review of the evidence. But in fact, all six members of the Task Force were either gay themselves or proponents of gay-affirming psychotherapy.

A third critical flaw of the report, one that is particularly relevant to the topic of this article, is the section on children and adolescence. The Task Force recommended that clinicians provide "information and education" to homosexually-orientated children to support them and that their parents, "be provided accurate information about sexual orientation." Absent, however, was any mention that clinicians discuss, and parents be taught, the known high-risk dangers associated with many aspects of homosexual practices, especially the fact that gay men are at high risk for acquiring HIV/AIDS.

Astonishingly, the Task Force said on one hand they were concerned about safety and welfare, yet on the other, omitted essential educational recommendations vital to potential youth entering a gay life.

It's hard to fathom how Governor Brown and the California Assembly can justify their acceptance of homosexual youth taking part in high-risk sexual behaviors that often lead to HIV, but find it harmful that young people who do not wish to embrace a gay life explore their heterosexual potential through counseling.

The only plausible explanation is that SB1172 used as its foundation, the APA Task Force report, when stating that SOCE can "pose critical health risks . . . including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse" and about twenty other maladies not supported by the scientific literature . Simply put, the law passed through the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Brown is based on misleading, junk science. The truth that is being suppressed is that some people can and do change their homosexual attractions. Just recently, a survey conducted by People Can Change, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help people with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA), showed that over half of those who sought counseling for SSA felt their attractions diminish as a result. Additionally, just this week a new website called Voices of Change was published, which contains a hundred testimonies of persons who have experienced change in their homosexual feelings.

I too am one of thousands of former homosexuals. During my adolescence I experienced same-sex attractions, and for years, experimented with the gay life. However, when I was a young man, a gradual decline in my homosexual feelings occurred to the point that one day, I no longer had any sexual desires for the same gender. This week, my wife and I will celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary, and together, we have two beautiful children.

My story is not everyone's story, and it doesn't mean that everyone can or should change. In all sincerity, I fully support the rights of gays and lesbians to live their lives according to their own values. But to ban a person's right of self-determination to pursue sexuality within their own values, especially in adolescence which is a critical time of sexual development, is truly dangerous and harmful.

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