Maine could become the 14th state to ban conversion therapy after the Senate passed a bill banning the anti-LGBTQ practice.
L.D. 912, which was approved by a 20 to 10 vote in the legislature’s upper chambers on Friday, would revoke the license of any entity which claims to “cure” the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth. Five Senators excused themselves from the vote after furious debate in the state’s House of Representatives earlier this year, which became so heated that the session was briefly shut down.
Authored by openly gay Rep. Ryan Fecteau, the legislation outlaws any attempt to “change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including, but not limited to, any effort to change gender expression or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”
The Democratic lawmaker said that while an undergrad at a Catholic university, a staff member at the college suggested he read a book called Beyond Gay—which claims people struggling with “homosexual attraction” can heal themselves through prayer.
“One day, I hope you’ll see beyond your gay identity and take in what life has to offer you,” Fecteau claimed the administrator told him during a speech on the House floor.
That moment had a profound impact on him, resulting in severe suicidal ideation.
“I know there are young people who are far more vulnerable than I was back then,” Fecteau said during debate in April. “I want to protect them from the harm that would come from a trusted professional telling them, one way or another, that they are broken and, that the core truth of who they are is wrong and even disgusting.”
Fecteau’s bill passed the House by a 76-to-68 margin, but not before Republicans in the chambers branded the legislation as an “extremely dangerous” plot to censor the views of religious people.
“The bill before us today is part of a much larger campaign to shut down reality-based free speech,” said Rep. Larry Lockman last month. “And not just shut it down. […]The left-wing progressives who are waging war on free speech in America have been so emboldened by their recent successes that they have upped the ante. Now they want to strip dissenters of their ability to make a living.”
The debate reached a fever pitch when Rep. Roger Reed read an email sent by a constituent calling the bill “an attempt by the LGBTQ community to legitimize the unnatural inclinations now approved by society over the natural inclinations as taught to us.”
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon had to call for a 25-minute recess on the floor after supporters of the bill shouted Reed down, thereby allowing the lawmaker to finish his homophobic address.
But despite the concerns of conservatives, L.D. 912 doesn’t infringe on people of faith’s rights to so-called “religious liberty.” The legislation leaves an exemption for religious leaders who provide neutral counseling to young people, as long as those sessions do not include the transfer of money.
LGBTQ advocates applauded the Maine Senate—which is majority Republican—for following states like Hawaii and New Mexico in passing legislation banning conversion therapy.
“This critically important legislation will help ensure children in Maine are not subjected to a practice that amounts to nothing less than child abuse,” claimed Human Rights Campaign National Field Director Marty Rouse in a press release as the legislation heads to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk for approval.
While advocates noted that the conservative might veto the legislation, HRC noted that several states which have passed conversion therapy bans—including New Hampshire and Maryland—had Republican governors at the time.
“It’s now imperative that fair-minded people across the state contact Gov. LePage’s office and urge him to sign this bill protecting LGBTQ youth or allow it to become law,” Rouse added. “Other Republican governors across the country… have signed similar bipartisan legislation, and it’s vital for Maine’s LGBTQ youth that Gov. LePage does the same.”
Conversion therapy survivor Mathew Shurka added that Joseph Nicolosi Jr., whose father is the leading architect of the anti-LGBTQ treatment, advocated publicly for the first time in favor of orientation change efforts during Maine’s hearings. As a licensed mental health professional, Nicolosi Jr. claimed that homosexuality is a form of “addiction” and he should have the right to treat it.
Shurka, who serves as a strategist for the Born Perfect campaign with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argued that this kind of “manipulation by a licensed professional is so dangerous for our youth.”
“Nicolosi is a person who may lose his license for false claims about addiction, psychotherapy therapy, and sexual orientation,” he told INTO in an email. “I’m glad that our advocacy has made movement in Maine as we see the Senate and the House passed the bill forward to the governor‘s desk.”
Conversion therapy has been condemned as “dangerous” and “ineffective” by every leading medical association in the U.S., including the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association.