Capitol Alert

Gay conversion therapy bill dropped by California lawmaker

Assemblyman Evan Low on the floor of the state Assembly.
Assemblyman Evan Low on the floor of the state Assembly.

The author of a California bill to declare gay conversion therapy a fraudulent business practice has abandoned his effort for this year after a fierce outcry from the state’s religious community.

Assembly Bill 2943 would have made it illegal to sell any service intended to change an individual’s sexuality or gender identity. The measure had already passed with large majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, with overwhelming support from Democrats, and was one vote away from the governor’s desk.

But Assemblyman Evan Low said Friday that, after meeting this summer with faith leaders, he would instead try again next year with a new version of the proposal they could feel more comfortable with.

“I left those productive conversations feeling hopeful. I believe every person who attended these meetings left with a greater understanding for the underlying reason and intention of this bill to create a loving and inclusive environment for all,” the Campbell Democrat said in a statement. “However, I believe there is still more to learn.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups have long raised concerns about therapies that purport to “cure” individuals of their “unnatural desires.” A 2012 bill banned the practice for minors, but only when it is offered by a licensed mental health provider. AB 2943 would have expanded the prohibition to adults 18 and older, and covered any commercially-available conversion therapy.

Low, who is openly gay, has asserted that these programs expose participants to damaging psychological abuse. He said in the statement that carrying the bill was deeply personal, because the confusion that he felt as a young man trying to understand his sexuality.

“I hid myself and my feelings because I was afraid of what others would think of me. This left me feeling very lost, scared, alone, and even suicidal. I wondered if I could change,” he said. “Yet, I am grateful my community embraced me as I was, a gay man. Many fellow members of the LGBT community are not as fortunate.”

Conservative religious groups vigorously objected to the legislation, which they considered an attack on their First Amendment freedoms. Some churches and other faith-based organizations offer programs that they say help individuals to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions.

Because it applies to consumer transactions, AB 2943 would not have outlawed religious counseling to change an individual’s sexuality or other conversion therapy services if they are offered free of charge. But opponents had promised to challenge the measure in court.

Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council, a Christian organization that mobilized against the bill, said in a statement, “We are inexpressibly grateful to Assemblymember Low for meeting personally with faith leaders over the last several months and sincerely listening to our concerns.”

“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,” he said.

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