You have likely heard us talk about California’s Assembly Bill 2943 over the last few months (if you haven’t, you can catch up here). The bill classified “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE) as an “unlawful business practice” in any instance involving the sale of services.* From the text of the bill:
Courts, including in California, have recognized the practice of sexual orientation change efforts as a commercial service. Therefore, claims that sexual orientation change efforts are effective in changing an individual’s sexual orientation, may constitute unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practices under state consumer protection laws. This bill intends to make clear that sexual orientation change efforts are an unlawful practice under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
The alarmingly broad wording used in AB 2943 included “efforts to change behaviors” in its definition of SOCE. But, of course, this could seemingly include any paid Christian speaker advocating for celibacy outside of opposite-sex marriage. Many supporters of AB 2943 denied this was the case, but the language used in the bill was ambiguous enough to allow for denials now and lawsuits later.
At the last moment, the author of AB 2943, Assemblyman Evan Low, withdrew the bill, saying,
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. With a hopeful eye toward the future, I share with you that, despite the support the bill received in the Assembly and Senate, I will not be sending AB 2943 to the Governor this year. 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 towards.
This bill is dead, but there’s every indication in Assemblyman Low’s full statement that he intends to try again: “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 towards.”
The Motivation behind the Bill
The bill offered quotes from various organizations declaring SOCE to be harmful. But when you look more closely at the reasoning in the quotes, you’ll see that the root harm they’re warning against is not the therapies themselves but the idea behind the therapies that homosexuality is unhealthy, wrong, or in any way undesirable. For example, here’s a quote from the American Psychiatric Association:
The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. [Emphasis added.]
The word “since,” there, indicates that what follows is the cause of the harm. Here’s another one:
The American Psychoanalytic Association issued a position statement in June 2012 on attempts to change sexual orientation, gender, identity, or gender expression, stating: “As with any societal prejudice, bias against individuals based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression negatively affects mental health, contributing to an enduring sense of stigma and pervasive self-criticism through the internalization of such prejudice.
So again, the concern here seems to be the underlying assumption behind SOCE—that is, the assumption that homosexuality is undesirable or even wrong. As the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists put it (also quoted in the bill), “Reparative therapy is grounded in the idea that nonheterosexual orientation is ‘disordered.’”
That was really the bottom line behind this bill. Without experiential knowledge of the freedom Jesus offers us from the guilt we all share in one form or another, hearing that your sexuality is disordered must be unbearably difficult. This reason behind opposition to SOCE is something to look for and keep in mind as you’re researching arguments for and against the effectiveness/harm of SOCE. It may be that some SOCE cause harm in other ways for other reasons (and, certainly, it’s easy to see how particular kinds of therapy could cause harm), but blanket statements against all of them are likely smuggling in the ethical assumption that homosexuality is not disordered. As you’re evaluating, you’ll need to distinguish between the claims of harm that are based on this assumption and those that aren’t.
This fight on the part of AB 2943 advocates to both curb the freedom of those who wish to seek out SOCE therapies and to limit the free speech of those who advocate therapies the government disagrees with is over for now. But probably only for now.
*Update: I originally said the law applied to “goods and services,” but as the Los Angeles Times notes, the bill was later amended so it would clearly apply only to services, not goods.