California Law Barring Sexual Orientation Therapy Blocked

A California law prohibiting mental health providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation of patients under the age of 18 was temporarily blocked by a federal judge until a lawsuit opposing it is resolved.

U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb in Sacramento yesterday ruled that the family therapist, psychiatrist and aspiring therapist who filed the case are “likely to succeed” on their claims that the law violates constitutionally protected free speech rights. California Governor Jerry Brown signed the law Sept. 30 and it is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Yesterday’s ruling, which applies only to those three people, came in one of two lawsuits challenging the law, claiming it illegally thwarts therapists’ efforts to eliminate “unwanted same-sex sexual attractions” through techniques including “sexual orientation change efforts,” according to the filings. The plaintiffs said in their complaints that the law violates free speech, freedom of religion and other rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Shubb wrote in his ruling that the “limited scope” of his preliminary injunction was warranted and weighed in favor of the public’s interest given the possible free speech violations the law may impose. He ruled the law can’t be enforced against the therapists who filed the case pending “final resolution” of it.

“The public has an interest in the protection and mental well-being of minors, and the court does not take lightly the possible harm sexual orientation change efforts may cause minors, especially when forced on minors who did not choose to undergo” such counseling, Shubb wrote.

‘Public’s Interest’

Given the limited duration of his order, the court has “no difficulty in concluding that protecting an individual’s First Amendment rights outweighs the public’s interest in rushing to enforce an unprecedented law,” the judge wrote.

Matthew McReynolds, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued yesterday at a hearing that the law violates religious freedom, privacy and freedom of speech, and that it was too vaguely worded.

“Because the statute is so oddly drawn, because the statute sweeps in so many different kinds of potential speech, and because the statute identifies so many different things as being part of its compelling interest, we honestly don’t know what is going to change on Jan. 1 if the statute is applied,” he told the judge.

Religious Freedoms

Alexandra Gordan, a lawyer representing the state, argued that the law doesn’t violate religious freedoms because it only applies to people acting in their capacity as licensed medical professionals.

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said the state is reviewing the decision and declined to comment further.

The case before Shubb was filed Oct. 1 by Donald Welch, a family therapist and member of the Skyline Church in San Diego. Another case was filed Oct. 4 by two sets of parents of teenagers who have received “sexual orientation change efforts” counseling from Joseph Nicolosi, a psychologist in Encino, California. Nicolosi is also a plaintiff in that case.

Under the law, any attempt by a mental health provider to subject a patient under 18 years old to a sexual orientation change effort will be considered “unprofessional conduct” and will be disciplined by the licensing authorities.

The cases are Pickup v. Brown, 12-cv-2497, and Welch v. Brown, 12-cv-02484 U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).

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