Activists Seeking Universal Ban on “Conversion Therapy” Frustrated by Fundamental Rights Enshrined in Law

By Alexis I. Fragosa, Esq. | August 5, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 6 (C-Fam) For those seeking help for unwanted same-sex attraction, free speech and religious liberty laws are an obstacle to proposed bans on so-called “conversion therapy.”

“We need to expose where [conversion therapy] is happening and get rid of it,” said Neela Ghoshal of Human Rights Watch during a recent Open Democracy panel discussion.

“Because we are talking about laws that have an impact on the exercise of other rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion . . . local lawmakers have to think really carefully about their constitutional obligations,” Ghoshal warned.

The term “conversion therapy” is applied broadly, depending on the country and setting.  Methods such as moral intimidation, electro-shock therapy, and other “aversion” therapies are increasingly discredited and condemned.

However, reputable therapeutic organizations and clinics offer counseling by licensed practitioners to help people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. Practitioners engage in talk therapy using mainstream therapeutic modalities, where goals are determined by the patient.

According to the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity Task Force website, because left-wing progressives dominate academia and mainstream professional associations, the successes of “individuals who pursue and/or report enhanced heterosexual functioning through psychotherapy” are often “marginalized or invalidated.”

“Mental health clients have the right to explore, with the assistance of a supportive therapist, questions or issues in their lives that may be causing them concern or distress and to participate in the setting of counseling goals that are compatible with their freely chosen personal or religious values,” says the Alliance website.

LGBT activists reject this right and are pushing for a universal ban on all therapies addressing same-sex attraction.

“We need to look very carefully at the . . . human rights framework, at what the laws and protections allow us to do,” asserted Ghoshal. “Bans need to be carefully targeted to the setting,” whether pastoral or therapeutic.

“In Kenya, Uganda, [and] Tanzania, for the most part the government is not going to be part of the solution, so communities themselves are going to have to organize and create the change they want to see,” said Ghoshal.

In the U.S., the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution poses a significant roadblock for a blanket ban.

In Florida, a federal court found that a law prohibiting therapists from conducting conversion practices violated therapists’ right to free speech.

To sidestep constitutional protections, activists turn to alternative governing bodies. A North Dakota legislative committee recently approved a rule proposed by the Board of Social Work Examiners prohibiting social workers from conducting “conversion” practices.

Representative Bernie Satrom expressed concern that this rule would interfere with religious freedom. “We’re telling the Christian counselors ‘you can be a licensed counselor, but you can’t practice your Christianity,’” he said.

In the U.K., where both sexual orientation and faith are protected characteristics under the 2010 Equality Act, activists acknowledge that a total ban would hit legal obstacles.

Pink News’ Benjamin Cohen warned that local therapy bans would not go far enough if people could travel to get help. “Even if you outlaw it in one country, […] you’ve got a separate situation where you are restricting people’s freedom to travel to another country.”

In the absence of a universal ban, activists agreed that comprehensive sexual education, which normalizes homosexuality, would make it less likely that young people would seek out “conversion therapy.”