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California's gay "reparative therapy" ban faces legal test

SACRAMENTO, Calif. A California law prohibiting mental health providers from counseling gay minors on how to become straight faces its first legal test Friday, when lawyers for counselors endorsing "reparative therapy" and parents who claim their sons have benefited from it, plan to ask a judge to block the first-of-its-kind measure.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller will hear arguments on whether she should grant an injunction that would prevent the law, which was passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown as SB1172 in October, from taking effect on Jan. 1.

The temporary delay would allow underage clients to continue receiving the therapy while its supporters seek to overturn the law on grounds that it violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.

If it's not blocked, the therapists and families "will be immediately and irreparably harmed by being forced to discontinue ongoing therapy in violation of their constitutional rights, by being denied the ability to direct the upbringing of their children, and by being compelled to violate their ethical obligations in order to obey the law," lawyers from Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, wrote in their petition.

The law Brown signed states that psychologists, social workers, family counselors and psychiatrists 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.

Lawyers for the state argue the ban is appropriate because it seeks to protect young people from a practice that has been rejected by mainstream mental health associations that regard homosexuality as a healthy part of the human experience and say that efforts to change an individual's sexual orientation can be harmful, particularly to children.

The outlawed therapy "can and has caused great psychological pain in young people who are already struggling with their sexuality and the stigma of being gay," Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote in asking the judge to deny the requested delay. "An injunction would expose some of society's most vulnerable members to treatment that the state and every major mental health organization in the country have condemned as an outmoded, ineffective, and potentially dangerous relic from an era when homosexuality was pathologized and criminalized."

Mueller is not expected to make a ruling at the hearing, but to issue a written decision at a later date.

The proceedings will be unusual, in part, because the judge granted Liberty Counsel's request to refer to the four parents and two teenage boys participating in the case by pseudonyms in both open court and legal documents.

Along with the petition to keep the law from taking effect, Mueller is scheduled to hear arguments on whether lawyers from the gay rights group Equality California should be allowed to join the attorney general in defending the law.

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