By Suzanne Normand Blackwood
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition to hear a case challenging a California law banning licensed counselors from incorporating sexual orientation change efforts into therapy with minors.
Liberty Counsel petitioned the Supreme Court to hear Pickup v. Brown after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the law, a decision that resulted in strong dissent by three judges.
“I am deeply saddened for the families we represent and for the thousands of children that our professional clients counsel, many of whom developed these unwanted attractions because of abuse of a pedophile,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver in a statement released today.
Staver said many minors who have sought to change their sexual orientation through counseling have benefitted from such counseling. They have seen improvements in self-esteem and relationships; they have even seen improvements in their academic performance at school, he said.
“The minors we represent do not want to act on same-sex attractions,” he said in his statement. “These children have been victimized twice – first by the likes of Jerry Sandusky, and second by legislators and judges who have essentially barged into their private therapy rooms and told them that they must pursue their unwanted and dangerous same-sex sexual attractions and behavior.”
The California law, as well as a similar law passed in New Jersey, was influenced by stances taken by the American Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association.
The American Counseling Association has spoken out against sexual orientation change efforts – sometimes referred to as change, reorientation, conversion or reparative therapy – claiming that “research in peer-reviewed counseling journals indicates that conversion therapies may harm clients.”
The American Psychological Association states in its “Practice Guidelines for LGB Clients” that “efforts to change sexual orientation have not been found to be effective or safe.”
pStaver said the laws infringe upon the constitutional rights of counselors and should be struck down. He said the laws also strip clients of the right to set their own goals in therapy.
“They are playing with people’s lives,” he said.
In every other area of counseling, “the client has a right to self-determination,” said Staver. However, when it comes to seeking to change sexual identity, the client’s right is not respected in the states of California and New Jersey, he said.
“It’s an unprecedented intrusion into the client-counselor, doctor-patient relationship,” Staver said, adding the California Counseling Association initially opposed the California bill, asserting it was unprecedented and that sexual orientation change efforts could be adequately addressed through the informed consent process.
Eric Scalise, vice president for professional development for the American Association of Christian Counselors, or AACC, said the California and New Jersey laws “purport to protect minors because they apparently are not developmentally mature enough to talk with someone about their beliefs, values and sexuality.”
“This is a bit far-fetched” when both states allow minors to seek professional services without parental consent, he said. This includes receiving consultation and other services regarding birth control, pregnancy and abortion-related decisions, substance abuse and mental health needs.
“How and why a minor is considered to be developmentally, emotionally and psychologically mature enough to discuss these very complex and serious matters, but unable to discuss their sexuality is almost laughable,” he said.
The AACC was among the parties represented by Liberty Counsel in Pickup v. Brown. Scalise said the position of the AACC on these cases is not so much about gender identity, same-sex attraction or the efficacy of change therapy, “but about what we believe is a client’s fundamental right to self-determination.”
“We don’t believe the state should be able to dictate which set of values … are the correct set of values that must be adhered to. If a client has a strong religious orientation that informs him/her that acting out same-sex attractions is contrary to those values, then the client and not the state should have the final choice in the matter,” he said.
“Furthermore, the client should be able to discuss thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc. with a therapist regarding any inner turmoil and stress he/she may be experiencing in this area,” Scalise added.
This would be especially critical in cases of sex abuse that often leave victims traumatized and confused regarding their sexual identities, he said.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had granted Liberty Counsel’s motion to stay the decision pending Supreme Court review. Now that the Supreme Court has rejected Liberty Counsel’s petition, the case will go back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which could decide to lift the injunction and allow the law to go into effect.
A case challenging the New Jersey law is set to go before a federal court of appeals in July. In this case, King v. Christie, Liberty Counsel also represents the plaintiffs, which include the AACC and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
“This is a serious constitutional matter,” Staver said. Legislators are not counselors and “should not regulate what counselors say or what clients have a right to hear.”
Staver added, “I can assure you the battle over change therapy is far from over. We will be back.”