NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP)-- New York is taking steps to stop therapists from trying to change young people's sexual orientation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday, joining a number of states that have acted against what's known as gay conversion therapy.
The Democratic governor's move, announced Saturday, comes as gay rights advocates have campaigned state by state with mixed results to try to ban a practice that major mental health organizations have repudiated.
Using executive power in a state where legislative bids to ban the therapy have stalled, Cuomo announced planned regulations that would bar insurance coverage for the therapy for minors and prohibit mental health facilities under state Office of Mental Health jurisdiction from offering it to minors.
"Conversion therapy is a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice'' that punishes people "for simply being who they are,'' Cuomo said in a statement.
It's unclear how prevalent the practice is in New York. Cuomo's office didn't immediately respond to inquiries Saturday; nor did a handful of New York mental health organizations. A spokeswoman for the New York Health Plan Association, an insurers' group, was unsure.
Mayor Bill De Blasio also commending the effort.
"The Governor's move to bar New York insurers from covering conversion therapy for LGBT youth is exactly the right one to make. No amount of therapy can fix something that isn't broken. No public or private insurance plans should encourage a practice found to be damaging to LGBT young people who, like everyone else, are searching for love and acceptance. The medical profession is about saving lives, not tearing them apart," De Blasio said in a statement.
The planned regulation quickly raised a question for the association: Would the insurer have to investigate whether any given mental health visit was for conversion therapy or would the onus be on providers to attest that it wasn't?
"That's something that we think needs to be made clear,'' spokeswoman Leslie Moran said.
Nationwide, there are no firm figures on the extent of conversion therapy. But proponents and critics have said it is not rare for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths to undergo some sort of program aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The American Psychological Association and other mental health groups say conversion therapy, sometimes called reparative therapy, wrongly treats being gay as a mental illness and may make young people feel ashamed, anxious and depressed.
Democratic President Barack Obama's administration called last year for an end to the practice. The White House had been petitioned after the suicide of a transgender teen who left behind writings mentioning religious therapy.
Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, commended Cuomo's action.
"No young person should be coerced or subjected to this dangerous so-called therapy,'' Griffin said in a statement.
But supporters of the therapy say prohibiting it limits treatment options and undermines religious liberty.
"If you ban this, you're saying to people of faith who might have unwanted sexual feelings, `Sorry, we can't help you,''' Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst with the conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family, told Colorado lawmakers last year.
California, Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati have outlawed the practice. But efforts to ban it have fallen short in several other places, including Colorado, Nevada and Iowa.
In New York, a ban has passed the Democrat-controlled state Assembly twice. But it has gotten nowhere in the Republican-led Senate.
The new regulations wouldn't apply to counseling that discusses but doesn't try to change questions of sexual orientation or gender identity.
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