The California Assembly voted Thursday to add gay “conversion therapy” to the state’s list of deceptive business practices, following a debate that focused on the personal experiences of several lawmakers and hinted at potential lawsuits to come.
“It is harmful and it is unnecessary,” Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), the bill’s author and one of the Legislature’s most vocal LGBTQ members, said of the practice.
Low, who told Assembly members that he explored conversion therapy as a teenager and suffered depression over his sexual orientation, insisted that the bill would be limited to efforts that involve the exchange of money.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he said in an emotional speech on the Assembly floor. “There’s nothing that needs to be changed.”
The bill, which now heads to the Senate, has become the focal point of intense debate on social media. Some religious groups have said that such a law would be a violation of their constitutional rights, while advocates insist the provisions are narrow and there’s no credible evidence that the services work.
One key part of the debate centers on whether Assembly Bill 2943 would stretch beyond businesses that charge for these programs and extend to printed documents, even Bibles. An analysis by the Assembly Judiciary Committee says the bill would apply only to services that purport to change a person’s sexual orientation and offered “on a commercial basis, as well as the advertising and offering of such services.”
Lawmakers who spoke in support of AB 2943 also made clear that they believe those kinds of services have been discredited. “This is fraudulent, it should not be occurring,” said Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton). “But you can still try to pray the gay away, if you like.”
Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), who said the bill addresses a difficult issue, nonetheless said that it’s important to ensure laws don’t tamper with religious freedom.
“We have to think about the legitimate experience of people who have gone through conversion therapy and said this was a good thing for them,” Gallagher told his colleagues.
California law already bans the use of conversion therapy by mental health professionals on those under age 18. Low’s bill would expand the state’s efforts beyond minors. It would join a list of commercial activities deemed “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” and therefore banned under state law.