Ex-gay counselor files lawsuit against Maryland's gay conversion therapy ban for minors

Governor Larry Hogan (L) and first lady Yumi Hogan pray at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Baltimore, Maryland, May 3, 2015. Baltimore's Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Sunday lifted a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew she had imposed on the city last week after a night of looting and arson that followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in the police custody. Hogan called for a day of prayer and reconciliation on Sunday. | (Photo: Reuters/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

An ex-gay psychotherapist had filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland over its ban on sexual orientation change efforts therapy for minors.

Last year, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed Senate Bill 1028, also known as the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, into law after it was passed overwhelmingly by the state Legislature.

Christopher Doyle, a professional counselor who is licensed to practice in Maryland, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland last Friday against Hogan and state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.

In the lawsuit, Doyle argued that the law violates the freedom of speech and freedom of religion rights of both he and his clients.

“SB 1028 prohibits counseling to minors seeking to eliminate, reduce, or resolve unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity by licensed professionals, which is causing immediate and irreparable harm to Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s clients,” read the lawsuit’s introduction.

“By denying minors the opportunity to pursue a particular course of action that can most effectively help them address the conflicts between their sincerely held religious beliefs and goals to eliminate, reduce, or resolve unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity, SB 1028 is causing those minors confusion and anxiety over same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, and identity and infringing on their free speech and religious liberty rights.”

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, the law firm representing Doyle, said in a statement released on Monday that he believed the Maryland law “is unconstitutional and causes harm to counselors and clients in Maryland.”

“Every person should have access to the counselor of their choice. No government has the authority to prohibit a form of counseling simply because it does not like the religious or moral beliefs of a particular counselor or client,” said Staver.

Last May, Maryland passed SB 1028, making it the 11th state to ban conversion therapy for youths, behind California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York, via executive action, and Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia.

SB 1028 was introduced in February 2018 and passed in the Senate by a vote of 34-12 and then in the House by a vote of 95-27.

Debate over the proposed legislation struck a personal nerve as Delegate Meagan Simonaire voted for the bill, while her father, Senator Bryan Simonaire, voted against it.

"The definition is so expansive this bill could revoke someone's license and livelihood by a simple conversation," Bryan Simonaire, told The Baltimore Sun. "I wonder if Jesus would have been banned if he had been licensed in Maryland."

Chad Griffin, president of the LGBT activist group the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement last year that he applauded the law's passage.

"Today, Maryland is a better place for countless young people thanks to the many advocates, allies, parents, and survivors who spoke out against this practice and urged their elected officials — Republicans and Democrats alike — to adopt these crucial protections," said Griffin.

Also called sexual orientation change efforts therapy or "reparative therapy," conversion therapy involves a counselor attempting to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

The practice is controversial, with prominent American psychological organizations rejecting it as harmful and ineffective.

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