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High Court Asked to Review California Gay-Conversion Law

Counselors and patients opposed to California’s ban on gay-conversion therapy, which was upheld by a federal appeals court, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the statute violates parental and free-speech rights.

In a petition filed today in Washington, lawyers for counselors and patients said the nation’s highest court should decide whether the law is constitutional. They maintain it censors their discussions and interferes with parents’ care for their children.

“Unless this court grants the petition and overturns the lower courts, government will have a new and powerful tool to silence expression based on a political or moral judgment about the content and purpose of the communications’ despite the First Amendment’s explicit prohibition against such governmental punishment,” Mathew Staver, a lawyer for counselors, said in an e-mailed statement.

The appeals court in San Francisco in August upheld the law, which bars doctors, psychologists, family therapists and social workers from providing sexual-orientation conversion therapy to patients under 18. Violators are subject to discipline by state licensing bodies.

The appeals court’s ruling is on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision. A similar law in New Jersey is being challenged.

Court’s Ruling

A three-judge panel of the appeals court said state lawmakers acted reasonably in limiting a treatment that health groups found to be harmful to minors.

Protecting the well-being of children is a legitimate state interest, and the law “does not violate the free speech rights of practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents’ fundamental rights,” the court said.

The law doesn’t bar unlicensed providers, such as religious leaders, from administering the therapy or prevent licensed providers from referring minors to religious leaders to get it, according to the ruling. A larger panel of the court refused to reconsider the decision, with three judges dissenting.

Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, declined to comment on the petition.

The appeal case is Pickup v. Brown, 12-17681, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in federal court in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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