California Drops Bill Banning Anti-LGBTQ Conversion Therapy in Surprising Move

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California announced on Friday it’s tabling a bill banning conversion therapy on LGBTQ adults, in a last-minute decision that came as a surprise to many.

As the legislative session winds to a close for the year, Assembly Bill 2943 was removed from consideration on the final day of debate. Although California passed the nation’s first-ever bill outlawing conversion therapy in 2012, AB 2943 would have built on the previous legislation by expanding its scope.

In addition to preventing the harmful, discredited practice from being performed on individuals over the age of 18, it defined any attempt to “cure” the sexual orientation or gender identity of an LGBTQ person as “fraud.”

AB 2943 passed both the California Assembly and the Senate with wide majorities early in the year and was set to head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk following one final vote in the lower house of the legislature. Brown, a Democrat who has signed many pro-LGBTQ bills during his time in the governor’s mansion, was widely expected to approve it.

But Assemblymember Evan Low, the bill’s sponsor, pulled AB 2943 before the Assembly could officially send it to Brown’s desk.

After meeting with conservative critics across the state, Low said in a statement that he came to a greater understanding of why some pastors and faith-based counselors feared the legislation. As INTO previously reported, opponents of AB 2943 argued it would silence the free speech of religious people.

Some even warned, for instance, it could prevent the sale of the Bible.

The openly gay lawmaker said he was “heartened” by the conversations he had on his statewide listening tour.

“A number of religious leaders denounced conversion therapy and recognized how harmful the practice is while acknowledging it has been discredited by the medical and psychological communities,” Low said.   

“I left those productive conversations feeling hopeful,” he continued. “I believe every person who attended these meetings left with a greater understanding for the underlying reason and intention of this bill to create a loving and inclusive environment for all. However, I believe there is still more to learn.”

Low announced his intention to continue listening to his critics. The openly gay assemblymember said he would spend the next year “finding common ground” with religious conservatives on the issue.  

“The best policy is not made in a vacuum and in order to advance the strongest piece of legislation, the bill requires additional time to allow for an inclusive process not hampered by legislative deadlines,” he claimed. “[…] I am committed to continuing to work towards creating a policy that best protects and celebrates the identities of LGBT Californians and a model for the nation to look toward.”

Right-wing groups praised Low’s decision to press the pause button on the proposal.

“We are inexpressibly grateful to Assemblymember Low for meeting personally with faith leaders over the last several months and sincerely listening to our concerns,” said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller in a press release. “AB 2943 would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation.”

Despite the setback, LGBTQ advocates stressed conversion therapy is a “important issue and one that [they’re] committed to getting right.”

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a harmful, ineffective solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist,” claimed Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur in a statement. “To charge the most vulnerable members of our community money for these services isn’t just dangerous — it’s fraudulent.”

“We look forward to working with Assemblymember Low to continue this conversation with Californians across the state and leaders from the medical, mental health, civil rights and faith communities,” Zbur added. “In the meantime, California’s existing consumer protection laws continue to safeguard the LGBTQ community against these dangerous, discredited and fraudulent practices.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), further argued that this year’s legislation is a step in the right direction.

In a statement, Minter said the widespread support for AB 2943 in the California State Legislature sends a “clear message to the charlatans who exploit vulnerable consumers based on false claims that therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

But supporters of the legislation clarify that many fears surrounding the conversion therapy ban were based on fears or misconceptions of its intent.

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