SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children is now banned in Utah, making it the 19th state and one of the most conservative to prohibit it.
Supporters navigated a winding path to passage and some dissent remains, but barring it in Utah could give a boost to similar efforts in other right-leaning states, said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“It’s really given people a lot of hope,” said Minter, whose group has pushed for bans around the U.S. Virginia is considering a ban, and the issue could also come up in this year in Texas and Kentucky, he said.
The change in Utah comes after the state hammered out a regulatory rule that had the support of the influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Leaders had opposed a previous version because it didn’t have certain exceptions for clergy.
“This is no longer a partisan cause, we all agree on how important it is to protect children from suicide,” said Cliff Rosky, a law professor who sits on the advisory council for the group Equality Utah during a news conference on Wednesday. He said he's also been contacted by advocates in Iowa and Nebraska.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert took the unusual step of calling on regulators after a proposed law was derailed after conservative lawmakers made changes to the bill. State officials confirmed the rule became final late Tuesday.
“Ultimately, I'm grateful to live in a state like Utah where we say you matter to everyone,” said Nathan Dalley, a 20-year-old student who underwent so-called conversion therapy as a teenager and has said it culminated in a suicide attempt.
The original sponsor of the proposal, GOP Utah Rep. Craig Hall, applauded the rule going into effect, saying it prohibits dangerous practices while protecting healthcare professionals.
“It will simply save lives,” he said.
Conversion therapy is a practice used to try to change sexual orientation or gender identity. Many people who have been through it say it deepened feelings of depression and increased thoughts of suicide. The new rule bans licensed Utah therapists from subjecting LGBTQ minors to the practice that the American Psychological Association has said is not based in science and is harmful to mental health. The Utah Psychological Association also spoke in favor of the rule.
The ban has drawn push back. Opponents argued it would prevent parents from getting help for children with “unwanted" feelings and even keep therapists from taking on young clients for fear of accidentally breaking the rules if kids want to discuss feelings about sexuality.
The rule could become an issue during the 2020 legislative session, said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Eagle Forum. “I'm astounded at all the people who have agreed to this, it’s just wrong,” she said. Lawsuits have been filed elsewhere, and that could be a possibility in Utah as well, she said.
Supporters of the ban, meanwhile, say therapists can talk about issues of sexuality with young clients as long as they don't try to change their orientation or gender identity.
Utah’s predominant faith, known widely as the Mormon church, opposes same-sex marriage and teaches that intimate same-sex relationships are a sin. But it also urges members to be kind and compassionate to LGBTQ people. The church holds tremendous influence in Utah, where the majority of state lawmakers and nearly two-thirds of the state’s 3.1 million residents are members.
The faith got behind the conversion therapy ban after supporters included assurances that church leaders and members who are therapists would be allowed to provide spiritual counseling for parishioners or families.