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Senate Gives Initial OK to Ban on ‘Torture’ Therapy for Gay Minors

Following a prolonged debate that carried echoes from the years-long push for same-sex marriage, the Maryland Senate on Tuesday gave tentative approval to a measure banning the use of “conversion therapy” on gay minors. The party-line vote came after a tense moment on the floor that suggested a GOP filibuster might be in the offing.

The measure would prohibit licensed counselors — psychologists, social workers and others — from performing therapy “that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” establishing such treatment to be “unprofessional” and subject to disciplinary action.

“Conversion therapy is torture for young people,” said the measure’s chief sponsor, Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), an openly gay state senator and gubernatorial hopeful. “There are so many young people who are struggling with issues around identity, and they need therapists who are going to help them, not harm them.”

Republican lawmakers raised a host of objections, chief among them that care standards should be set by professional licensing boards, not legislators.

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, right, raises questions Tuesday about a bill that would ban the use of conversion therapy on gay teens. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

“For us to wade into this is, is unprecedented. It’s unnecessary. It’s a slippery slope. It’s not good,” said Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, (R-Harford). “We should not be setting the state of the art on this or any other medical procedure. It’s the wrong way to go.”

The GOP senators’ stance stands in apparent contrast to the views of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Amelia Chasse, a spokesman for Hogan, told Maryland Matters in an email Tuesday that the governor supports the legislation.

Opponents in the Senate also pressed for religious protections, for families and counselors who oppose same-sex attraction on faith grounds.

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) cited committee testimony from a woman who “had been a lesbian for 18 years and came out of it.” He expressed concern that, if the legislation is enacted, teens wrestling with same-sex attraction could be dissuaded from seeking counseling.

“[We don’t want to] drive these children who need help, away from those who are trained, who are professional… and can help you work through these problems,” he said.

Nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted bans on conversion therapy for minors, most in the last few years.

“Conversion therapy is a practice that has been thoroughly discredited by all the major medical organizations,” Madaleno said. “But with Mike Pence as vice president and an administration that is seemingly on board with these lies, we felt that it was time for move forward with a statutory ban.”

Maryland Matters reached out to a licensed clinical social worker in Rockville whose website offers “Sound Psychology. Solid Faith. Real Healing,” including “reparative therapy of homosexuality” for “adults, couples and adolescents.” He declined to comment.

The ban on conversion therapy for minors was approved on second reading, 32-14, on a party-line vote. When it appeared that Republican opponents might try to filibuster the measure, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) assured his colleagues that everyone would get to speak, though he cautioned that “we may need to come back this afternoon.” After a few more GOP amendments, which were all defeated, discussion came to an end.

A House committee held a hearing on a companion bill last month, but the panel has yet to vote on it.

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Senate Gives Initial OK to Ban on ‘Torture’ Therapy for Gay Minors