Children’s Rights, Parental Rights, and Therapists Rights In Cross-hairs as Session Begins

Earlier this week we told you about a bill that makes contract surrogacy legal in Washington State.  In doing so, the bill makes it illegal for courts to consider the best interest of the child in custody disputes that would arise out of surrogacy contracts. You can read more about that here.

Two other concerning bills will have public hearings in the first week of the legislative session, which begins Monday, January 8th.

Third-Party Visitation

Senate Bill 5598 would grant relatives, including but not limited to grandparents, the right to seek visitation with a child over the objection of the parents.

Unfortunately, family feuds often result in a child being used, for example, as a pawn between a child’s parents and grandparents.  Many of those stories are highly sympathetic and involve children losing the opportunity to see their grandparents who, in some cases, are the only parents they have ever known.

The bill would allow a relative or a parent, who has an “ongoing and substantial” relationship with the child a right to seek visitation and would be granted if the court found that the child will “suffer harm or substantial risk of harm” if visitation is denied.

Despite the sad family stories that bring rise to the bill, the bill has broad implications for parental rights generally.

Today in Washington State, a court is not allowed to insert its judgment as to what is best for a child until parents have been found by the court to be unfit.

This bill would change that standard so that a court could overrule the preferences of the parents without even an accusation of unfitness.  All the court would need is a different opinion about what the child needs.

We believe the government should not be allowed to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the parents simply because it believes it knows better.

It’s worth discussing the third-party visitation bill at the same time we discuss the surrogacy bill because of the inconsistent ways these bills use the “best interest of the child standard.”

The surrogacy bill makes it illegal to consider the interest of the best interest of the child if doing so would delay getting a child into the arms of adults who paid money for it. However, the third-party visitation bill forces the court to consider “the best interest of the child” when it means forced visitation with someone else over the objection of the parents.

Tragically, the unifying principle seems to be making it easier to separate kids from their parents.

As challenging as many family situations are, creating more opportunities for family members to sue each other is not likely going to lead to greater family harmony.

The hearing for SB 5598 is scheduled for Tuesday, January 9th at 10 am in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.  You are encouraged to attend and any member of the public is welcome to testify.

Ban on Life Change Therapy for Minors

Senate Bill 5722 is a bill aimed at prohibiting therapists from helping minors who experience unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

Proponents of the bill claim it is necessary to protect children from shock therapies and ice baths.  However, in three years of debate, proponents of the bill have failed to identify even a single therapist in Washington who has ever engaged in abusive or coercive practices in an effort to change someone’s sexual orientation.  Proponents of the bill also refused to pass legislation banning aversive therapies like ice baths and shock therapy generally.

Coercion of a patient for any reason is already professional misconduct.

The real purpose of the bill is to make it illegal for therapists to communicate the fact that it is possible to reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction or overcome gender dysphoria.  Though true, these facts are offensive.

Therefore, this bill would create legal liability for professionals whose client’s might wish to identify with their birth gender or not act out on feelings of same-sex attraction.

As a result, it would be illegal for a minor to get the kind of help they want since the legislature would have determined that they should not want it.

It also interferes with parental rights by telling parents there are some kinds of therapy that you are now allowed to seek out for your child under any circumstances.

This is especially problematic as it applies to gender dysphoria. Every study that has ever looked into the question has concluded that a majority of minors who experience gender dysphoria will ultimately outgrow it.  Nevertheless, this bill would deny minors the ability to receive professional help that would affirm their identity as a member of their birth sex.

In fact, simply treating a child with gender dysphoria could create liability for therapists.  If the feelings disappear during the course of therapy, as it usually does eventually, the therapist could be accused of engaging in “conversion therapy” simply because the child came to identify more with their actual gender.

The bill would even restrict the speech of therapists who are pastors or full-time employees of a religious organization operating in a religious context.

The hearing for SB 5722 is scheduled for Thursday, January 11th, at 10 am in the Senate Health Care Committee.

If you are a therapist who might be impacted by this bill or a person who has gone through counseling for unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, and would be willing to share your story with lawmakers in person or in writing, please contact us.

To share your thoughts with your legislators about these or any other issues, call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here.

Once you’ve done your part, share this with a friend so they can too.

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