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February 27, 2014 at 6:25 AM

‘Pray the gay away’ therapy ban stuck in state Senate

Until 1973, homosexuality was medically classified as a mental disorder. The vestige of that fundamentally wrong notion — that same-sex attraction is an illness to be cured — lives on in the fringes of psychology through the practice of “gay conversion therapy.”

In the coming weeks, Washington should become the third state to ban such “treatments” for minors. A bill in the Legislature, HB 2451, is hung up in the Senate Health Care Committee. Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, told The Seattle Times last week she didn’t plan to put the measure up for a vote, and there wasn’t sufficient support in the Senate. Without a vote, the bill dies this week.

That’s a mistake.

Gay conversion therapy, also called reparative therapy, is premised on the idea that sexual orientation is mutable, and that young gays and lesbians can be made into heterosexuals, often via religious counseling (hence the derisive title of “pray the gay away” therapy). The practice has a grim history; methods for forcing conversion include electroshock and ice water baths, administered while the patient watched gay porn. In legislative testimony, Daniel Cords of Seattle said he tried suicide “more times than I could count” after being forced into reparative therapy by fundamentalist parents.

Failing to put HB 2451 up for a vote is also a mistake because the politics here are clear. The House passed it 94-4. Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, told The Tri-City Herald the therapy was “cruel and unusual,” and “reminiscent of a country different than America.” Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Centralia, on the House floor described his change from being skeptical to being convinced that some conversion therapy practices “border on child abuse.” Watch his testimony below.

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If the bill gets a vote in the Senate Health Care Committee, it will pass the whole Senate easily, according to Sens. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and Marco Liias, D-Everett, who’ve championed the bill. Hearing concerns about religious freedom, amendments were passed on the House floor that emphasized the ability for pastors to counsel their flock. The bill only applies to therapy given to minors.

Nor is there any apparent legal barrier to HB 2451. The federal 9th Circuit Court (of which Washington is a member) upheld the California ban on reparative therapy, making a lawsuit here untenable.

Here are the major medical groups that have warned that gay conversion therapy is based on bunk science and is potentially harmful: the U.S. Surgeon General (in 2001), the American Academy of Pediatrics (1983), the American Psychiatric Association (2000), the American Psychological Association (1997), the National Association of Social Work (1997) and the American Counseling Association (1998).

Bottling up HB 2451 would put the Majority Coalition Caucus on the wrong side of history.

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