State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is right to be offended by “conversion therapy,” the pseudo-psychiatric treatment that purports to talk patients out of being gay and into being straight. There’s no medical basis for the treatment, and there’s some evidence that it causes harm while failing to do any good.
As is so often the case, Lieu and his colleagues in the Legislature reacted to a perceived problem by proposing a bill. Lieu’s legislation, SB 1172, which would make it illegal for California psychologists to attempt to convert gay minors, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is working its way through the statehouse. While the objections of religious groups and other defenders of the therapy are not particularly compelling, the bill is nevertheless troubling because it implicitly accepts a premise that guides too much of Sacramento’s activity — namely, that every bad idea should be illegal.
Conversion therapy should be eliminated by the market. It doesn’t work. It’s based on unsound science. It relies on the idea that homosexuality is deviant, and inflicts shame on those who undergo it. So patients who go in with questions about their sexuality emerge with questions about their sexuality as well as newfound issues of denial and repression. Parents who subject their children to it find themselves with children who are more deeply troubled.
But the Legislature is particularly ill-suited to solving the problems of families or prescribing norms for medical and psychiatric practice. Legislators have no special insights into psychiatry, nor are they elected for their abilities as parents. Frankly, it’s worrisome to have them stepping in to tell therapists what they may or may not say or do to treat patients.
Legislation such as Lieu’s may satisfy their sponsors’ desire for publicity, but they also perpetuate the bill-mill culture of Sacramento, in which too many ill-thought-out proposals are cranked through the system to little effect. Those few parents who still are tempted to talk their children out of being gay will learn the error of their ways soon enough — without help from the government.