graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Bill banning gay conversion therapy stalls in California legislature over Free Speech and religious concerns – August 2018

Sacramento, CA

California State Assemblyman Evan Low announced he would no longer pursue a statewide ban on gay conversion therapy practices, because of concerns in the religious community that such a bill would infringe on freedom of expression. Conversion therapy, also known as “reparative” or “reorientation therapy,” is a questionable practice aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Most clinicians regard it as a pseudoscientific and exploitative treatment, but some religious groups nonetheless advocate it.

Key Players

Evan Low is a California state assemblyman who has served in the legislature since 2014. His district covers parts of the South Bay and Silicon Valley, and he also serves as the chair of the Legislative LGBT Caucus. Low identifies as a gay man, and he began efforts early in 2018 to extend California’s ban on gay conversion therapy to adults (a 2012 law had already banned the practice for minors).

Low says he considered undergoing conversion therapy himself as a teen, when he was coming to terms with his sexuality. “It brings me back to a very dark place in my earlier life,” Low said in an interview with The Mercury News. “I don’t want anyone else to be in the same position I was in.” The assemblyman used his personal experiences to drum up support for his bill, which sought to change consumer fraud laws to make it easier for adults to sue people who practice conversion therapy.

The California Family Council (CFC) is a Fresno-based organization, headed by Jonathan Keller, that aims to “protect and foster Judeo-Christian principles in California’s laws” for the benefit of its families. It says that part of its mission is to “inform and educate Californians on public policy issues, and that its perspectives are founded upon a worldview derived from “biblical truth, confirmed by objective social science research.” The organization opposed Low’s bill.

Further Details

The legislation in question, AB 2493, was designed to prohibit the selling or advertising of sexual orientation change therapy. The practice is opposed by medical groups such as the American College of Physicians and the American Psychological Association, which cite a lack of evidence of the practice’s efficacy and potential harm to a patient’s mental health. In fact, some who undergo the practice, as was noted by The Mercury News, report that it can have long-lasting negative effects, such as suicidal thoughts, financial hardship, and the reinforced idea that “there’s something wrong” with them.

Such concerns influenced Low to pursue the effort to pass the bill. By late August 2018, it had cleared both the California state senate and assembly, needing only one more procedural vote in the assembly before it could be signed into law by the governor.

However, before the bill could be signed, Low decided to suspend the effort because of the pushback he had received from various religious groups and leaders.

Jonathan Keller, President of the faith-based California Family Council, said in a statement that “AB 2943 would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation.”

Initially, Low defended his bill against such critiques. But, after a certain point, he felt compelled to work with religious leaders on the issue. In particular, he was struck by those who opposed conversion therapy but feared the bill’s broader implications.

Kevin Mannoia, chaplain at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college in California, expressed such sentiments in an Orange County Register op-ed: “…reparative therapy is without evidence as to its efficacy and is inconsistent with Christian living,” he wrote. However, he said, “The breadth of the language in AB2943 will limit the ability of California’s pastors to engage fully with the real struggles of their people.” And, in a statement, The Los Angeles Times editorial board opined that the bill was simply too ambiguous to be passed: “The problem is that AB 2943 isn’t a regulation of licensed healthcare professionals. Rather, and oddly, it’s an amendment to a state law, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, dealing with fraudulent trade in goods and services. It would expand the definition of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” for which consumers could sue to include “advertising, offering to engage in or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.” And it would cover anyone who engaged in that practice.”

Taking these concerns into account, Low expressed a desire to create a new bill with language that could be used by state legislatures across the country and overcome religious-based objections.


Bill pushed back to next legislative session

Assemblyman Low announced that although the bill died in 2018, he would try again during the next legislative session with a new proposal that might be more comfortable for religious community leaders.

External References

Gay conversion therapy bill dropped by California lawmaker, The Sacramento Bee

California legislator shelves bill to ban paid ‘gay conversion therapy’ for adults, Los Angeles Times

Thank You Assemblyman Low for Pulling AB 2943 and Listening to our Concerns, California Family Council

Assemblymember Evan Low official website

Evan Low now fighting conversion therapy in California, The Mercury News

Statement from LA TImes editorial board


Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded to Tracker: October 22, 2018