The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill Wednesday that would ban conversion therapy on minors by licensed health professionals.
The bill, introduced in February by state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) — the first openly gay member of the state Senate — would prohibit licensed mental health professionals from treating minors with “a practice … that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the bill.
Ten states and Washington, D.C. have already banned conversion therapy on minors.
“Regardless of anyone’s intentions, this kind of therapy inflicts real harm on many individuals,” said Luke Jensen, the director of the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland, who also said he has met university students suffering from depression and substance abuse after attending conversion therapy.
A 2016 paper in the Journal of Medical Regulation indicated that conversion therapy may have adverse effects on patients including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
The bill passed by a margin of 34 to 12 in the Senate last month and delegates voted 95-27 in favor on Wednesday. The bill will now move on to be reviewed by Gov. Larry Hogan, who has voiced support for the measure.
Steven Clark, president of this university’s College Republicans chapter, said in an email that while he knew many Republicans opposed the measure, he was personally in support of it. All 12 nay votes in the Senate were cast by Republicans.
“I don’t question the love that parents may feel for their children and they may, in their own minds, think this is an important thing for them to do, but it’s not,” Jensen said. “We need to then step in and make sure that anyone that engages in this conversion therapy is properly sanctioned.”
LGBT youth are around five times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Banning conversion therapy in Maryland is a sign that people are beginning to accept the LGBT community, said Maya Zambrano-Lee, a sophomore environmental science and policy major.
“There’s nothing wrong with being [LGBT] because it’s something you can’t change about yourself,” Zambrano-Lee said. “Those things can’t be pushed out of you. They can’t be crushed by aggressive therapy techniques.”
The National Institutes of Health have called conversion therapy techniques, including behavioral and cognitive therapies like aversion treatments, “ineffective.”
The Family Research Council — a conservative Christian lobbying group — opposed the conversion therapy ban, saying it violates client-therapist privilege and impinges on religious liberty.
“There has never been — in all of history — a form of talk therapy prohibited by law solely because of the goal which the client seeks to achieve,” Mary Beth Waddell, a senior legislative assistant for the Family Research Council, said at a state Senate hearing last month.
While the bill does not apply to religious counselors like pastors, Waddell argued that most licensed mental health practitioners that participate in conversion therapy are motivated at least in part by their religious faith.
“The free exercise of religion surely includes the right to live in a manner consistent with the teachings of one’s faith and to seek and receive the help of others in so doing,” Waddell said at the hearing.
Zambrano-Lee said it’s more important for children to feel comfortable and build strong self-esteem rather than for them to fit into a mold that makes other people feel comfortable.
Matthew Aird, a sophomore computer science and government and politics major, called conversion therapy an “inhumane practice that doesn’t belong in our society.”
“When gay conversion therapy is still allowed, it keeps the perception alive that being gay is a choice,” Aird said.
Jensen said banning conversion therapy will benefit future students of this university.
“We need our students to be mentally aware and settled and not hindered by things that have nothing to do with their abilities or interests,” he said.