Federal Judges Disagree on Sexual Orientation Conversion Treatment

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Two federal judges in Sacramento have issued opposing rulings on the constitutionality of a new law in California (SB 1172) that prohibits sexual orientation conversion treatment for teenagers, the Sacramento Bee reports (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 12/5).

Background

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed SB 1172, by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), making California the first U.S. state to ban conversion treatment.

The law's supporters say the therapy has no medical benefits and can lead to depression and suicide.

Opponents argue that the law is unconstitutional because it undermines privacy and parental rights, as well as the First Amendment.

The law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Details of First Ruling

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb temporarily blocked California from implementing the law but limited the scope of the ruling to three providers of the therapy who are participating in the lawsuit.

In his ruling, Shubb said that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health providers outweigh concerns that the therapy poses a danger to teens.

Shubb also disputed lawmakers' findings that the conversion treatment puts teens at risk for suicide or depression, saying they were taken from "questionable and scientifically incomplete studies" (California Healthline, 12/4).

Details of Second Ruling

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller ruled in a separate case that the law does not infringe on mental health care providers' free speech rights.

She also said that the law does not violate minors' free speech rights to receive advice from a mental health care provider, and she refused to grant a preliminary injunction on that basis.

Mueller added that teens and their parents have viable alternatives to the therapy and that California health care providers are able to refer patients to therapists not covered by the measure.

The plaintiffs immediately notified the court that they plan to appeal Mueller's denial of the injunction to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Sacramento Bee, 12/5).

Implications

Unless the appeal is successful, the law will take effect as scheduled with an exemption for the three providers who received the injunction on Monday, according to the state attorney general's office.

Erwin Chemerinsky -- dean of the UC-Irvine Law School -- said, "If two district court judges come out opposite ways, ultimately the Ninth [U.S. Court of Appeals] is going to have to resolve it" (McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 12/5).

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