State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, left, and David Pickup, a licensed marriage and family therapist, address lawmakers during the hearing in Sacramento on May 8.(Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal judge has temporarily blocked
California from enforcing a first-of-its-kind law that bars licensed
psychotherapists from working to change the sexual orientation of gay
minors, but he limited the scope of his order to just the three
providers who have appealed to him to overturn the measure.
District Court Judge William Shubb made a decision on Monday just hours
after a hearing on the issue, ruling that the First Amendment rights of
psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals who
engage in "reparative" or "conversion" therapy outweigh concern that the
practice poses a danger to young people. The First Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and other basic rights.
if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct,
it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech
and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on
speech," Shubb wrote.
The judge also disputed the California
Legislature's finding that trying to change young people's sexual
orientation puts them at risk for suicide or depression, saying it was
based on "questionable and scientifically incomplete studies."
law, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry
Brown in October, states that therapists and counselors who use "sexual
orientation change efforts" on clients under 18 would be engaging in
unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing
boards. It is set to take effect on Jan. 1.
Although the ruling is
a setback for the law's supporters, the judge softened the impact of
his decision by saying that it applies only to three people -
psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch,
and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor
who specializes in clients who are unhappy being gay.
exemption for them will remain in place only until Shubb can hold a
trial on the merits of their case, although in granting their request
for an injunction, the judge noted he thinks they would prevail in
getting the law struck down on constitutional grounds.
and Welch were represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, a
Christian legal group. President Brad Dacus said he thought Shubb's
ruling would have a chilling effect that would keep the licensing boards
that regulate mental health professionals from targeting other
"If there are any, we can easily add them to the
case as a plaintiff," Dacus said. "We know we will have to have another
hearing on the merits, but to be able to get a preliminary injunction at
this stage is very telling as to the final outcome, and I'm very
encouraged by it."
Complicating the outlook for the law is that
another federal judge in Sacramento is considering similar arguments
from four more counselors, two families and a professional association
of Christian counselors, but has not decided yet whether to keep the ban
from taking effect.
"We are disappointed by the ruling, but very
pleased that the temporary delay in implementing this important law
applies only to the three plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit," National
Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter said. "We are
confident that as the case progresses, it will be clear to the court
that this law is fundamentally no different than many other laws that
regulate health care professionals to protect patients."
for the state argue that outlawing reparative therapy is appropriate
because it would protect young people from a practice that has been
rejected as unproven and potentially harmful by all the mainstream
mental health associations.