Banning Sexual Orientation Therapy For Minors Is Misguided

Dec 2, 2013 by

Spencer Case –

On Aug. 19, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill which prohibits sexual and gender orientation conversion therapy for minors. Within days, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar law in California. Legislators in other states continue to push similar measures.


What these laws mean, in general, is that parents in New Jersey and California cannot take their children who think they’re homosexual to see a psychologist or psychiatrist for gay-to-straight conversion therapy.


Gay-rights proponents herald these laws as necessary to protect minors from dangerous and demeaning treatment. Conservative critics object that the measures unjustifiably inject politics into doctor-patient relationships.


So far, the media dialogue about the legislation has focused on homosexuality. Yet, due to the laws’ expansive definitions of “orientation,” the policy change has implications that go far beyond the immediate concerns of gays and lesbians.


Neither the New Jersey nor the California laws directly define “orientation,” but both provide definitions of “sexual orientation change efforts.” In the New Jersey law (Assembly No. 3371), that definition is as follows:


As used in this section, “sexual orientation change efforts” means the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender; except that sexual orientation change efforts shall not include counseling for a person seeking to transition from one gender to another…


“But not limited to” is a significant piece of verbiage. Given that all “behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions” and same-sex attractions are explicitly mentioned, it is hard to imagine what else needs to be covered.


Gay-rights proponents howl when conservatives lump homosexuality together with all fetishes and perversions. Here, it is left-leaning lawmakers who have done the lumping. Nothing in the above “definition” rules out nymphomania, pedophilia and pornography addiction as orientations. Afraid of excluding anything, they have included everything.


It is not as if exclusion represents the only danger. The more inclusive “orientation” becomes, the fewer therapeutic options are available for minors. The policy would, if enforced, prevent therapists from trying to change any of the obviously undesirable “orientations” just mentioned.


What’s more, why should it be illegal for a minor to seek therapy to change “behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions?” The main response appears to be “for his or her protection.”


The texts of the California and New Jersey legislation cite American Psychological Association and other scientific authorities who maintain that the therapy in question causes anxiety, depression, confusion, guilt, suicidal thoughts and a host of other ills.


A thoroughgoing libertarian would allow a fully-informed adult patient the freedom to undergo any medical procedure at his own risk. Most of us, not being such libertarians, accept bans on quackery even for the fully-informed. Moreover, even consistent libertarians want choices restricted for minors. So the patient protection argument must be taken seriously.


It’s clear social scientists are more under the influence of political ideology than either they, or the liberals who appeal to their authority, would like to admit. But you don’t have to agree with me on that score to notice that the scientific evidence mustered fails to justify the scope of this legislation.


First, the evidence focuses on homosexuality, so it’s too narrow to justify banning against all therapeutic attempts to modify “orientation” in minors given the broad definition of orientation being applied.


Second, the laws do not target specific procedures or methods that have proven ineffective. Rather, they target a goal of therapy that some lawmakers and activists find distasteful.


Even if current techniques and procedures for changing orientation in minors are ineffective or harmful, nothing precludes the possibility that better ones will be discovered. Nothing, that is, except the legislation. If any goal is outlawed, it is less likely that anybody will devote resources to finding new ways to achieve it.


Third, the complaint that orientation-altering therapy is inappropriate for minors sits uneasily with the ad hoc stipulation that therapy for minors who wish to change their genders altogether does not count as therapy “effecting change in orientation.” Indeed, this is the only thing on earth or in heaven we know doesn’t amount to “effecting change in orientation.”


Changing one’s gender is perhaps the most drastic sexual change one could undergo. It could culminate in irreversible surgical modification of one’s body (surgery which, by the way, is scientifically questionable). Odd that such therapy would be sanctioned in the same breath that therapy with much more modest goals is banned.


Finally, none of the evidence brought forward considers the benefits that sexual therapy provides, or could provide, to minors. Being freed of an undesired or undesirable sexual proclivity seems like a substantial benefit.


When proponents advance the patient protection argument, they always seem to have a certain kind of case in mind. This is the case of the gay teenager who is coerced or manipulated into orientation therapy by his Protestant fundamentalist parents. (The traveling preacher’s blessing of “Get thee hence, man-lovin’ demons!” proved ineffective.)


Hopefully, it will be agreed on all sides that this is undesirable. Society should not intervene to “correct” every non-standard sexual proclivity. The very existence of therapy to change sexual orientation makes abuse possible, and that is enough to make many uneasy.


I share the underlying intuition about such cases, but believe that more limited measures could easily handle them.


For instance, there could be a requirement that a young candidate for this therapy must be interviewed by three different psychiatrists to determine that there is no coercion, that he would likely benefit from a change in orientation. Or, if necessary, we could outlaw therapy to change homosexuality, but not all orientation. Both these options are far more restricted than the actual laws.


Conservatives should acknowledge that a humanitarian impulse lies behind this liberal position, like most liberal positions. Unfortunately, as these laws demonstrate, good intentions don’t translate into wise policy.

via Why New Laws Banning Sexual Orientation Therapy For Minors Are Misguided.

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