Christian group files suit to stop gay therapy ban

Same-sex couple Breana Hansen, left, and Monica Chacon kiss as they celebrate outside of San Francisco City Hall Feb. 7, 2012, in San Francisco. Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO A Christian legal group has filed a lawsuit to overturn a first-of-its-kind California law that prohibits licensed mental health professionals from practicing therapies aimed at making gay and lesbian teenagers straight.

The California-based Pacific Justice Institute challenged the law signed Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown. The lawsuit was filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

The institute filed the suit on behalf of a psychiatrist and a marriage and family therapist who is also a church pastor in San Diego. It also names as a plaintiff Aaron Bitzer, a Culver City man who says he has benefited from the "reparative" therapy.

The lawsuit claims the law, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, violates First Amendment and equal protection rights.

Meanwhile, gay rights advocates are making plans to get other states to join California in banning such therapies.

Brown called the therapies "quackery" that "have no basis in science or medicine."

Two New Jersey lawmakers already are drafting similar legislation, while groups that helped get the California law passed are sharing research, witnesses and talking points with counterparts in other gay-friendly states, said Geoff Kors, senior legislative and policy strategist for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"There are lots of folks today who are looking at this, now that the governor has signed it," Kors said. "We'll be reaching out to all the state (gay rights) groups, especially in states that have had success passing LGBT rights legislation."

The law only applies to licensed therapists, not ministers or lay people who counsel teens to resist same-sex attractions.

It states that mental health providers who use sexual orientation change efforts on clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by their respective state licensing boards.

Mainstream associations representing psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have dismissed reparative therapy in recent decades as being ineffective and potentially dangerous to the mental health of teenagers and young adults who are led to believe their interest in same-sex partners is wrong.

As originally written, the bill introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, also would have required therapists to warn adult patients of the practice's risks and limitations and to obtain their written consent before engaging in it.

Lieu dropped the informed consent provision, however, after a number of mental health associations in California — including the California Psychological Association and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists — complained that it interfered with the therapist-client relationship.

Both groups, as well as the other leading professional groups, ultimately endorsed the ban for juveniles.

It remained unclear how many practitioners and patients the law would affect.

David Pruden, vice president of the California-based National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, a professional association that supports treatment for homosexuality, estimated there are two dozen therapists statewide who engage in efforts to change sexual orientation, and not all of them treat adolescents.

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