House Passes Ban on Life Change Therapy 94-4

Yesterday the Washington State House of Representatives delivered a blow to religious freedom when it passed HB 2451 which bans therapy for minors to help them reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction.   The bill, which passed 94-4, now moves to the Senate for consideration.

This bill, modeled after similar bills in New Jersey and California, makes it professional misconduct for a licensed therapist to provide sexual orientation change therapy to minors even when the client requests it.  Therefore, it makes it illegal for a licensed counselor to counsel in a way that is consistent with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or LDS understanding of sexuality...even in a church, mosque, or synagogue.


As a result, a minor with unwanted same-sex attraction will be prohibited by law from getting professional help.


It was expected that the bill would pass the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, but the final vote was surprising because of the amount of support it received.  Thought to be highly controversial, the bill received nearly unanimous support even from House Republicans who, though often powerless to stop bad policy in the House, typically oppose attempts by the left to censor speech, restrict religious freedom, and interfere with family decisions.      


However, this bill presented unique political challenges.


Proponents of the bill told stories about children being subjected to shock therapy and ice baths against their will.  While that kind of aversive therapy is broadly condemned, there is little to no evidence that such therapy is done commonly if at all. The Washington State Department of Health said they have received no complaints about therapists performing coercive sexual orientation change therapy of any kind--much less ice baths and shock therapy--against the will of a client. 


Nevertheless, rather than simply ban shock treatments and ice baths, this bill makes it illegal for licensed therapists to perform talk therapy as well, even if the client requests it.  


The broad support for the bill could be attributable to the potential political liability of opposing it. One can easily imagine messages like, “Representative X voted against a bill that would protect children from being thrown into ice baths! Representative X supports child abuse!?!?


Deceptive, negative campaign messages aren’t exactly new inventions in political campaigns.


This bill raises a dilemma every politician faces: “What kind of compromises am I willing to make if not compromising could mean I lose my ability to do any good at all?”


For the voter, this vote raises a different question: “If I can’t count on you to vote against bills that violate core principles of religious freedom, what can I count on you for?”


No one has bad intentions.  But the view can look very different depending on where your seat is.


The bill was amended and improved to a degree, but even after the amendments, the bill’s primary purpose--to prohibit counselors from being able to communicate a particular perspective on same-sex attraction--remained intact.


While the vote allowed the bill to pass the House of Representatives, the strong support for the bill in the House increased its chances of success in the Senate.


The Washington State Senate is comprised of a bi-partisan Majority Coalition Caucus of 23 Republicans and 2 Democrats that has formed around budgetary issues. The coalition does not necessarily agree on social policy. Therefore, in order to remain united they have agreed not to take up controversial social issues.


However, when a bill comes out of the House with the appearance of broad support, it could embolden more leftist members of the Majority Coalition to join with leftist Democrats to pass the bill.  After all, if it passed the House 94-4, how controversial can it really be?  


It could pass with a strong majority of the Senate as well for fear of campaign mailers accusing Senators of supporting child abuse.  


Welcome to the sausage factory.


That being said, the debate over this bill is far from over.  It was always expected that the bill would pass the House so the debate will really heat up in the Senate.  


Your involvement now is more important than ever!


A hearing has been scheduled for 10 am on Thursday, February 20th in the John A. Cherberg Building. Be there!  

Child abuse is not ok.  If that is happening, everyone wants to stop it.  Coercion by licensed counselors is already professional misconduct.  If that is happening, there is already a way to address it.  File a complaint with the licensing authority.


This bill denies patients the rights to seek the kind of counseling they want simply because the legislature doesn’t think they should want it.  Why is that fair?  


You can call your legislators about HB 2451 or any other issue through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here.


Your involvement is critical.  By attending hearings, contacting your legislators, and encouraging your friends to do the same, we all can help make sure that good policy also makes for good politics.



Posted by Nick Literski on February 20, 2014
Don't worry, Jordan. An LDS bishop can still persecute children under his charge by telling them they need to either grow up to marry an opposite-sex spouse OR remain celibate and alone for the rest of their lives. Likewise, your church can still make children sit through meetings where their fellow church members rant about how gays are "tools of Satan," who are "destroying the family," and how it's vitally important for you to cash in your family savings in order to pay lobbyists and attorneys bent on denying basic civil rights to such "unworthy" people. Y-A-W-N
Posted by david Broadus on February 18, 2014
The therapist would be unable to talk to the patient about not being gay, because it is impossible to change a person's sexual orientation through 'talk', religion or any other sort of therapy. This has been affirmed by 99.9% of all those who have had such therapy, all legitimate scientific organisations in a position to know, and even therapists who have engaged in the practice in the past. It is hurtful to lie to people that you will be able 'to cure them', and insulting to gay people that anyone should think they need to be cured.
Posted by Gretchen McDevitt on February 18, 2014
Another question: What about school counselors? School counselors have an ESA Professional Certificate. Is that a license? As a former school counselor, we never referred to it as a license. Just wondering if ESA Certificate would fall under this bill. The bill also uses the term "licensed health care provider". School counselors are not "health care providers". At least I don't think we are.
Posted by Jordan on February 17, 2014
Thanks for the info. I emailed my Rep who, like all the rest, voted in favor of the bill. I told him he has lost my support and he quickly offered to discuss the bill over the phone and we did. From our conversation it was clear that he didn't know the details of the bill and wasn't sure if the "ice baths and porn" story was even true. Does anyone? Doubt it. He also didn't know if current laws already offered protections that this bill claims to be advocating for. He wasn't much help. What do we pays these folks for again?
Posted by Joseph Backholm on February 17, 2014
Gretchen, you are basically correct. The counselor could talk about the fact that the client doesn't want to be gay, but couldn't do anything that could be construed as helping the client to reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction. The need to nuance speech in that way is itself evidence of how Orwellian we have become. Will the government let me say this? How about this?
Posted by Gretchen McDevitt on February 16, 2014
Just want to make sure I understand the bill correctly. It sounds like a counselor could discuss the client's concerns about being gay, if the client brings up the topic. However, if the client said he did not want to be gay and wanted some help in trying to change, the counselor would have to say there is nothing he can do, until the client reaches 18. Do I understand the bill?
Posted by Devin Backholm on February 14, 2014
The prophet Jeremiah bemoaned, on God's behalf mind you, that there were so few "valiant for the truth on the earth." (Jer. 9:3) He warned for forty years that the trends they created were not going to end well. They thought they were smarter than Jeremiah. They weren't. We would be smart to listen to him and learn from the history recorded there. Twain had an interesting twist on a familiar phrase. "History doesn't exactly repeat itself, but it rhymes." I'm not looking forward to rhyming with Jeremiah's generation.
Posted by Dan on February 14, 2014
Jordan, the bill applies to state licensed therapists - its a legally recognized, state sanctioned credential. The problem this poses is that it risks forcing state licensed therapists (counselors) to not apply their trade in service to God. Christians who need counseling for some significant issue, or who are required to attend such counseling, could no longer seek or receive such counsel given with a Christian or LDS perspective, nor could such counselors be covered by insurance because they could no longer be licensed.
Posted by joseph backholm on February 14, 2014
The bill only covers licensed therapists, but it covers licensed therapists regardless of the context in which they counsel. If a licensed therapist works for a church their speech will still be restricted by this bill and they would be prohibited from counseling in a way that is consistent with their beliefs.
Posted by Jordan on February 14, 2014
Joseph, please clarify: An LDS Bishop is not a licensed therapist, but it is part of his ecclesiastical role to help and counsel members of his ward. Does the law apply here? If a young man came to him seeking help with pornography the Bishop lovingly counsels and encourages the young mans efforts to correct this. If the young man came to him expressing unwanted homosexual temptations would the law apply? And please don't think I don't care unless it affects my religion. A non-religious counselor should be able to help too if a client asks - how is that even debatable?!
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