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Utah governor proposes rule to ban conversion therapy for minors

Utah Governor Gary Herbert has proposed a new rule to ban conversion therapy for minors in the state. The proposal has been supported by gay rights groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church.

"The stories of youth who have endured these so-called therapies are heart rending, and I'm grateful that we have found a way forward that will ban conversion therapy forever in our state," Herbert said in a press release Tuesday. 

Conversion therapy is a discredited practice that purports to "convert" a person's sexual orientation. The techniques used in conversion therapy have been linked to anxiety and depression. The American Psychiatric Association determined that homosexuality is not an illness that can be "cured" over 45 years ago, but an estimated 700,000 adults in the U.S. have received some kind of conversion therapy.

The Mormon Church, a major presence in Utah, issued conflicting positions on the rule throughout the legislative process. 

In February, a chief lobbyist for the church Marty Stephens told CBS affiliate KUTV, "As the Church has repeatedly stated, we denounce any therapy, including reparative or conversion therapy, that subjects an individual to abusive practices not only in Utah, but throughout the world." But in October, the church said it opposed a pending state regulation that would bar psychologists from using the therapy.

In Herbert's press release Tuesday, Stephens' comments were in support of the new rule.

"We are opposed to conversion therapy and our therapists do not practice it. However, we are grateful for the clarifications the new rule provides, and we support its adoption," Stephens said.

An earlier draft of the bill stated that therapists in Utah cannot offer minors therapies they claim will "result in a complete and permanent reversal in the patient or client's sexual orientation." Some activists, therapists and attorneys argued that the wording was too broad, and might even encourage the practice. 

The pushback led to an outpouring of testimony from people who have undergone conversion therapy. During an open comment period, nearly 2,465 comments were submitted. In October, staffers at the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which would help implement and enforce the rule, indicated to the Associated Press that at least 85 percent of those comments were in support of the ban.

One critic of the original wording was Troy Williams, the head of Equality Utah. Williams is now in full support of the updated rule.

"We are profoundly grateful to Governor Herbert and the Psychologist Licensing Board for the thoughtful and meticulous manner in which they have worked to protect LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy," Williams said in the governor's statement. "We are pleased that the new rule will mirror the legislation that was drafted and introduced earlier this year. We have no doubt the adoption of this rule will send a life-saving message to LGBTQ+ youth across our state."

"I think that the real heroes of this are those individuals who endured 'conversion therapy' and were brave enough to tell their story," Williams said on Tuesday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. 

According to the press release, the new rule will be published on December 15, and could be effective as early as January 22, 2020. If it passes, Utah will become the 19th state to ban conversion therapy.

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