Over the last several years, the Washington State legislature has been debating the issue of therapy dealing with same-sex attraction.
The issue was first introduced in 2013 when Sen. Marko Liias introduced a bill to study the issue of conversion therapy, or sexual orientation change effort therapy. The bill called for recommendations to be made to the legislature about the issue.
That bill did not pass. In fact, it wasn’t even voted on.
But the desire to study the issue quickly faded. After all, who needs to learn when you already know everything?
So, in 2014, they moved beyond their interest in talking to the therapists and clients who might be affected and introduced legislation to ban the therapy entirely.
Along with it came stories of children being subjected to shock treatments and thrown into ice baths in an effort to stop them from being gay. They tried to ignore the fact that coercion and abuse is already professional misconduct.
Moreover, no evidence was ever presented that this has happened in Washington in recent years. In fact, the Department of Health has no record or institutional knowledge of any complaint being filed against any therapist for coercive or abusive therapies attempting to stop a child from being gay.
Of course the fact that no complaint was filed doesn’t mean this kind of abuse has never happened. Not only would it be harmful to kids, it would be completely ineffective as therapy. So there is general agreement that this kind of abuse should be stopped.
However, there is not general agreement that the legislature should make it illegal for a client to receive the kind of help they desire.
So, after passing the House, the bill died in the Senate.
But the issue wasn’t dead.
In a good faith effort to bridge differences in order to stop child abuse, the Senate returned in 2015 to unanimously pass a bill (SB 5870) that would prohibit coercive and abusive aversive therapies like shock baths and ice therapies.
However, the bill did not ban talk therapy.
So, when the bill moved to the House, it was amended and returned to its 2014 form. While proponents talked about the desire to stop child abuse, what they really wanted to do was regulate conversations. Essentially they told clients, “We don’t think you should want to change in this way, so we’re going to make it illegal for you to get help doing so.”
The ban would apply even if the therapist is a pastor or church employee operating inside a church.
The bill was then sent back to the Senate where it was not scheduled to be brought up for a vote.
So on Tuesday, Sen. Marko Liias attempted a procedural move to bring the bill up for a vote, but his motion was voted down 27-22.
In response, Sen. Liias issued a statement that said, “I am appalled that the Republican majority killed legislation to protect kids from electric shock, ice baths, and other physical and emotional abuse, simply because they’re gay. We need to end conversion therapy once and for all.”
This is where the debate changed from an honest disagreement to dishonest politicking.
Sen. Liias was present when the Senate unanimously voted to support a bill that would protect kids from electric shock and ice baths. The implication that they support child abuse, when there is a clear record to the contrary, should be beneath the dignity of an elected official.
Sadly, however, it seems that is what every policy debate dealing with marriage, family, and human sexuality devolves into.
If you oppose efforts to make it illegal for a client to receive certain forms of therapy, then you support child abuse.
If you think it’s ideal for children to have both a mother and father, you hate gay people.
If you disagree with me, you’re a bad person.
While there is nothing wrong with debate or disagreement, what would help kids, regardless of their sexual orientation, is leadership that doesn’t dishonestly represent the actions and motives of people they disagree with in an effort to score political points.
Contact your Senators and thank them for their willingness to be thoughtful about these sensitive issues. You can call them through the legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them here.
It’s been a long session. They’re tired. They’ll appreciate someone saying thank you.
Encourage them to continue acknowledging the difference between actual abusive therapies that aren’t good for anyone and the kind of talk therapies that some people want and have been helped by.
After all, if a five year-old can get help to change a gender she’s uncomfortable with, shouldn’t a 17 year-old be able to get help to deal with sexual impulses he’s uncomfortable with?