SAN FRANCISCO A federal appeals court on Friday put the brakes on a first-of-its-kind California law that bans therapy aimed at turning gay minors straight.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency order putting the law on hold until it can hear full arguments on the issue. The law was set to take effect Jan. 1.
Licensed counselors who practice so-called "reparative therapy" and two families who say their teenage sons have benefited from it sought the injunction after a lower court judge refused the request.
The law, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this fall, states that therapists and counselors who use "sexual orientation change efforts" on clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards.
The appeals court's order prevents the state from enforcing the law, SB1172, while a different three-judge panel considers if the measure violates the First Amendment rights of therapists and parents.
National Center for Lesbian Rights legal director Shannon Minter, whose organization helped fight for the law's passage, said the measure's supporters shouldn't read too much into Friday's order.
"It's disappointing because there shouldn't even be a temporary delay of this law, but this is completely irrelevant to the final outcome," Minter said.
Earlier this month, two federal judges in California arrived at opposite conclusions on whether the law violates the Constitution.
On Dec. 4, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller refused to block the law after concluding that opponents who have sued in her Sacramento court to overturn it were unlikely to prove the ban on "conversion" therapy unfairly tramples on their civil rights.
The opponents argued the law would make them liable for discipline if they merely recommended the therapy to patients or discuss it with them. Mueller said they didn't demonstrate that they were likely to win, so she wouldn't block the law.
Mathew Staver, chairman of the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel, appealed Mueller's decision to the 9th Circuit and said he would seek an emergency injunction to keep the law on hold until its constitutionality is determined.
Mueller's decision came half a day after U.S. District Judge William Shubb handed down a somewhat competing ruling in a separate lawsuit.
Shubb said he found the First Amendment issues presented by the ban to be compelling. He ordered the state to temporarily exempt three people named in the case before him two mental health providers and a former patient who is studying to practice sexual orientation change therapy.