Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill banning therapeutic programs aimed at converting the sexual orientation of homosexual children. Many of these conversion therapies are often sought by parents who suspect gay tendencies in their children. The new law now prohibits any treatment that asks minors to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” Such therapies have been found to have negative effects on children while promoting a culture of intolerance. Other states, including Michigan, should follow California’s lead in banning these prejudicial actions.

A leading advocate of reparative therapies is activist David Pickup, who credits such practices with curing his own youthful homosexual leanings. Pickup and others often refer to a UCLA study conducted in the 1970s by doctoral student George Rekers. The subject was Kirk Murphy, a slightly effeminate 5-year-old boy. After subjecting Murphy to experiments involving emotional and physical punishments, Rekers concluded that he was “cured” and published his findings in a scientific journal. Rekers became regarded as an expert in reparative therapies and even today his research is cited in academic writings. Following the reparative treatment, Murphy’s mother recalled that, “it left Kirk just totally stricken with the belief that he was broken.” In 2003, after years of living “under a pall,” Murphy committed suicide.

Concerned by his affection for dolls, Murphy’s parents forced him to attend the conversion therapy program. At 5 years old, Murphy was understandably compliant and unable to voice his own thoughts. Similarly, most minors are more or less subject to the whims of their parents. California’s ban provides protection for underage children unable to defend themselves, while still allowing adults the freedom to attend such therapy sessions voluntarily.

Pickup argues that the ban denies treatment to children who may desire it. Regardless of his concern, there are questions about the efficacy of the therapies themselves. Reparative therapists have admitted that while many “patients have succeeded in reducing their homosexual attraction and in enhancing heterosexual desire … total ‘cures’ are rare.” Furthermore, a large portion of the medical field agrees with the American Psychological Association that “there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe or effective.”

In addition to their inefficacy, the APA says conversion therapies may even “increase the likelihood or severity of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” Unlike other religious institutions such as private schools, the sole purpose of a conversion center is to cleanse the patient of homosexuality. This not only causes direct harm to those involved, but also spreads a visible message of prejudice. Exodus International, for example, is a religious organization with ministries scattered across the country — including one in Traverse City, Mich. — dedicated to providing treatments to eradicate “homosexual impulses and desires.” The presence of these clinics is a shameful indication of ignorance and intolerance. Michigan, along with all other states, should emulate the precedent set by California.

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