Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban on conversion therapy for gay kids today. This raises an obvious question: What is gay conversion therapy? (What I mean is that we think we know what gay conversion therapy is — but what does that term specifically mean legally?)
Here’s what we assume it means. We assume it means a big fuss. We assume it’s like going into rehab. For example, the AP reports that ”Lawmakers heard horror stories from some during hearings on the ban, including Brielle Goldani of Toms River, who testified she underwent electric shocks and was given drugs to induce vomiting after being sent to an Ohio camp at age 14 to become straight.”
That’s obviously one (hopefully extreme) example of conversion therapy. But what about a pastor or priest who advises a young parishioner who is struggling with this issue to resist homosexual urges. Is he engaging in conversion therapy? What about the Christian counselor?
According to the bill: ”A person who is licensed to provide professional counseling under Title 45 of the Revised Statutes, including, but not limited to, a psychiatrist, licensed practicing psychologist, certified social worker, licensed clinical social worker, licensed social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified psychoanalyst, or a person who performs counseling as part of the person’s professional training for any of these professions, shall not engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a person under 18 years of age.”
Presumably, most pastors or priests are not “licensed to provide professional counseling under Title 45 of the Revised Statures,” so they’re probably off the hook. For now. But what about the Christian counselor who doesn’t specialize in conversion therapy, but might be asked a question about sex? She presumably would be licensed, and so the question (once again) is this: What is conversion therapy exactly?
What if a Christian counselor merely advises a patient to resist homosexual urges (minus the electric shocks and drugs, etc.) is she breaking the law? What if the counselor doesn’t volunteer this advice, but is asked? The bill defines “sexual orientation change efforts” as “the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation.” It is unclear to me whether or not mere words would qualify. But one presumes they would.
It’s not completely clear that this is even constitutional. Depending on whom you ask, this bill is either a way to protect vulnerable kids — or a huge violation of free speech and religious liberty.