Massachusetts Senate Approves LGBTQ Conversion Therapy Ban

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he is leaning toward signing the measure if it reaches his desk

The Massachusetts Senate has approved legislation that would prohibit LGBTQ conversion therapy for minors in Massachusetts.

The Senate approved the bill Thursday by a 34-0 vote. The House earlier this month passed a similar measure by a 147-8 vote.

Bill backers say conversion therapy that intends to alter a person's sexual identity has been widely discredited by mental health professionals and can be harmful to children.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he is leaning toward signing the measure if it reaches his desk.

Arlene Isaacson, co-chair of the Coalition to Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors, said conversion therapy can range from generating physical pain to try to dissuade individuals from same sex attraction to what she called "cruel psychological talk therapy."

"Being LGBTQ is not a disease that requires a cure," Isaacson said in a statement. "These fraudulent treatments often lead patients to depression, substance abuse, self-harm and suicidality."

Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka's office said the Senate bill would instead "promote therapies that encourage self-exploration and social support."

Andrew Beckwith, Massachusetts Family Institute president, said during a recent Statehouse protest that the bill ``eliminates options for struggling youth who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity and really takes away the rights of parents to find the treatment that is best for their children and their families."

If the measure is approved and signed by Baker, Beckwith said the organization intends to mount a legal challenge on the grounds that the ban would violate the First Amendment protection of free speech.

Five of the six Senate Republicans voted "present" on the bill, saying they didn't oppose it but raising concerns about potential constitutional conflicts.

"The question is not whether we should ban these practices. The answer to that is a strong and affirmative yes," said Republican leader Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester. "The question is how."

Tarr and other Republican lawmakers wanted to delay a final vote and instead ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for an advisory opinion about the constitutionality of the bill — including concerns that it might infringe on free speech rights.

Democratic Sen. Mark Montigny of New Bedford said the Senate should forge ahead.

"Let the SJC do their job," Montigny said. "Our job is to pass this immediately."

Similar laws in California and New Jersey have survived initial court challenges.

Advocates said if the bill is signed into law, Massachusetts will become the 16th U.S. state to pass a "conversion therapy" ban.

Other states that have passed similar bans include Connecticut, California, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, Hawaii and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia has also approved a ban, advocated said.

Lawmakers passed a similar bill last summer but it stalled in the session's final hours.

The proposed ban would continue to allow adults to seek conversion therapy if they want.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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