U.S. Supreme Court's refusals affect California interests

U.S. Supreme Court's refusals affect California interests
The issue over the Mt. Soledad cross is whether it is a war memorial or an improper endorsement of a specific religion that should be removed. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

A California law barring therapy aimed at converting the sexual orientation of minors from gay to straight withstood a legal challenge as the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal arguing that the statute violates free speech rights.

In two other California cases before the high court, justices declined to hear appeals on a quarter-century dispute over a San Diego war memorial in the shape of a cross and on a Marin County oysterman's attempt to keep his oyster farm operating in Point Reyes National Seashore.


The court's action on the so-called gay conversion therapy lets stand a ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the state had adequately demonstrated that the therapy does not have scientific merit and can cause psychological harm.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the ban into law in 2012, but it had been placed on hold pending the outcome of the legal challenges. The law can result in loss of a license for psychotherapists who practice conversion, which employs techniques including aversion therapy.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) praised the justices for preserving the law he introduced and that has since been adopted in eight other states.

"The court's refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles," Lieu said.

When a court stay barring application of the law is lifted, probably in the next few days, the ban will interrupt therapy already underway for some underage patients in California, said Christopher Rosik, president of the National Assn. for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

"The state has now become the arbitrator of judging when the spoken words of a licensed therapist are speech to be allowed or conduct to be banned," Rosik said. "This opens a precedent that is ripe for future meddling in the helping professions."

Mat Staver, chairman of the nonprofit Christian group Liberty Counsel that filed the legal challenge, said the judges have essentially barged into private therapy rooms and told minors "that they must pursue their unwanted and dangerous same-sex sexual attractions and behavior."

The Supreme Court's decision not to intervene in the fight over the cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego does not end the case. Instead, it goes back to the lower courts.

The issue is whether the cross is a war memorial that should be allowed to remain or an improper endorsement of a specific religion that should be removed. Passions in San Diego run strong on both sides.

In 2008, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in San Diego ruled in favor of allowing the cross to remain. But the 9th Circuit found in 2011 that the cross violated the 1st Amendment, and based on that ruling, Burns last year ordered the cross removed.

However, the judge also gave supporters permission to take the case back to the 9th Circuit. Instead, they appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case and pointedly noted that it was not issuing a ruling based on the merits.

The court's action opens the way for the case to go back to the Supreme Court once the matter is fully settled by the lower courts.

Built in 1954, the 43-foot cross is one of the most visible landmarks in San Diego. Starting in the early 1990s, plaques honoring military veterans have been placed on walls surrounding the base of the cross.

Defenders of the cross have argued that it is a war memorial, not exclusively a religious symbol. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing a group of Jewish war veterans, says the cross must come down because it represents an unconstitutional endorsement of one religion.


In the appeal over the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. farm in Northern California, the court's action lets stand a 9th Circuit ruling that the Interior Department acted within its authority when it refused to renew a lease held by farmer Kevin Lunny.

Lunny bought the oyster company in 2005 and took over the operation's permit, which was to expire in seven years. He petitioned federal officials to extend the permit, enlisting the support of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The lease was not renewed, and Lunny has remained in business for 19 months while his case has worked its way through the legal system.

On Monday, Lunny vowed to continue fighting.

"It's not over until the last oyster is shucked," he said at a news conference in San Francisco.

Neither he nor his attorney specified what their next avenue will be. A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department said only that a meeting is scheduled for Monday in district court.

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McGreevy reported from Sacramento. Perry reported from San Diego. Cart reported in Los Angeles.