Delaware is the 15th state to ban the discredited method referred to as conversion or reparative therapy from being used on minors—and Massachusetts lost its bid to become the 16th state to do so, after a last-minute approval didn’t make it through the required legislative process in time.
In July, Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) signed a measure passed by the state Legislature that imposes fines, or license suspension or revocation, on mental health professionals who engage in the discredited practice on minors. As a result, 15 states and the District of Columbia now ban the practice.
A controversial amendment derailed a similar measure in Massachusetts in the final minutes of the state’s legislative session. The state’s House of Representatives initially passed a conversion therapy ban that included a provision requiring “mandated reporters” to notify the Department of Social Services if they learned of a minor receiving conversion therapy. The mandated reporters included doctors, teachers, counselors and school counselors. In June, the House passed a new version of the bill with this contentious provision stripped out.
The Senate did not formally take up the measure until July 31, the last day of this year’s legislative session. A version of the bill that included the “mandated reporters” provision passed early that evening. At 11:59 p.m., the Senate took up an amended version without the controversial provision and passed it at 12:03 am.
Although the Senate passed the same bill as the House, there wasn’t enough time available for the measure to be “enacted,” a process that requires printing a bill on parchment and then having that version voted on again by both houses. Those final steps didn’t happen before both branches adjourned at around 1:15 am. The bill’s supporters intend to reintroduce the measure next year.
ACA Supports the New Laws
“I congratulate the Delaware legislature for passing this important legislation,” American Counseling Association Chief Executive Officer Richard Yep said. “By signing this bill, Governor Carney is preventing some of our most vulnerable populations—children and youth—from being subjected to a very painful and damaging experience.”
“When all the facts are taken into consideration, we are left with the reality that efforts to change sexual orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality do not work, have the potential to do great harm, and are aimed at treating a mental health problem that does not exist. The mental health community has spoken in a clear voice that this practice should not be condoned,” Yep said. “I hope Massachusetts will get a ban on conversion therapy across the finish line next year.”
The American Counseling Association (ACA) followed the progress of the Delaware and Massachusetts bills, and encouraged its members to ask their representatives in Dover and Boston to support a conversion therapy ban. ACA members sent messages in support of this legislation to their representatives, through the ACA VoterVoice grassroots advocacy system.
The Background for ACA Support
The American Counseling Association takes the position that conversion therapy does not work, can cause harm, and attempts to "convert" sexual orientation, which is not recognized by the medical community as a disorder. The ACA Governing Council “Resolution on Reparative Therapy/Conversion Therapy/Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) as a Significant and Serious Violation of the ACA Code of Ethics” is available online here.
The American Psychological Association (APA) study, “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation” provides evidence that conversion therapy is both ineffective and harmful. For this study, the APA conducted a systematic review of the available research on sexual orientation change efforts—83 studies in all.
The APA concluded in its report that: "efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm." The report documented that up to 50 percent of the participants in conversion therapy practices reported harmful effects from the attempt to change their sexual orientation. The 140-page APA study is available online in its entirety here.