News & Politics

California Lawmaker Withdraws Anti-Choice Bill That Would Have Banned Books by Ex-Gays

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, watches the debate over a bill during the Assembly session Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Low announced Friday that he is ending his effort this year to pass a bill declaring gay conversion therapy a fraudulent practice. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

On Friday, California Assemblymember Evan Low withdrew his infamous bill that would have outlawed promoting goods and services connected to “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE) as a fraudulent business practice. This overreaching ban on “conversion therapy” wouldn’t just have inserted the government into personal therapy decisions, but would likely have even banned books from ex-gay people, and potentially a broad swath of Christian literature.

Low announced he would not be sending the bill, A.B. 2943, to the governor’s office for a signature, even though the bill had passed both the State Assembly and the State Senate. To his credit, the openly gay assemblymember said he was convinced by conversations with religious leaders that the bill is not the right way forward on this issue.

“The best policy is not made in a vacuum and in order to advance the strongest piece of legislation, the bill requires additional time to allow for an inclusive process not hampered by legislative deadlines,” Low said in a statement. “With a hopeful eye to the future, I share with you that, despite the support the bill received in the Assembly and the Senate, I will not be sending AB 2943 to the Governor this year.”

Low described his own personal history growing up with same-sex attraction and identifying as gay. He recalled officiating at weddings but not being able to “have one of my own,” hosting blood drives without being able to give blood, and hosting Boy Scout merit badge trainings without being able to take part in the Boy Scouts growing up.

“As a young person I often found myself confused about my sexual orientation,” Low explained, noting that gay men did not appear in the movies and TV he watched. He lamented that “many fellow members of the LGBT community … have been subjected to the harmful and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy.”

“I authored Assembly Bill 2943 to ensure a remedy for those who are deceived by this deceptive practice,” Low explained. As the bill made its way through the legislature, however, “opposition began to speak out against the legislation.”

Low recounted “meeting with a variety of faith leaders,” and finding himself “heartened by the conversations.” He noted that “a number of religious leaders denounced conversion therapy and recognized how harmful the practice is while acknowledging it has been discredited by the medical and psychological communities.”

Low committed himself to “creating a policy that best protects and celebrates the identities of LGBT Californians.”

The assemblymember deserves praise for reconsidering his bill, but the legislation should never have gained support in the first place. A.B. 2943 would have targeted “sexual orientation change efforts,” efforts to alter someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2012, the California Assembly passed Senate Bill 1172, which banned mental health professionals from performing SOCE on children under the age of 18, regardless of whether or not children might want SOCE.

That law defined SOCE as “any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

A.B. 2943 would extend that ban to prohibit SOCE for anyone, not just children under age 18. It would also prohibit the advertising or sale of SOCE as a service, making advertising SOCE illegal under laws against fraudulent business practices.

A.B. 2943 would amend the Consumer Legal Remedies Act to ban as “unfair or deceptive acts or practices … the sale or lease of goods or services” that promote SOCE. Critics have argued that this bill would enable any Californian to object to any good or service promising freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria as “fraudulent.” This means the law would effectively ban books by ex-gay authors, and perhaps even be used to ban the Bible itself.

While defenders of A.B. 2943 argued the bill would not ban ex-gay books, that defense was always quite questionable.

“The overall framework of the law still applies to goods and services,” Matt Sharp, director of the Center of Legislative Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told PJ Media. “That represents its fundamental flaw. You’ve put this idea that any efforts that seek to provide someone with hope and change regarding their sexual orientation are fraudulent goods and services.”

Sharp denounced the bill as “anti-choice. It’s essentially saying sexual orientation is a one-way street.” He argued that “the real victims of this are LGBT individuals who should always have the freedom to question and explore.” He also called the bill “barbaric” for suggesting that children who temporarily identify as the opposite sex could not seek counseling to detransition.

This week, the Reintegrative Therapy Association released a documentary telling the stories of four men who chose reintegrative therapy, knowing that their sexual orientation might change. With the therapy, the men who had identified as gay addressed underlying psychological issues that led them to doubt their masculinity. They became whole, and as a byproduct, their same-sex attraction ebbed.

“I wanted to be loved, I wanted affection, I wanted to be cared about,” the ex-gay man Nathan explains in the documentary “Free to Love.” “I wanted it from my father, and then, as a substitute, I wanted it from another guy. And when I wasn’t getting it from a peer, then I ended up turning that into a sexualized desire.”

“What I see now is that I had attractions that were a result of my upbringing, and those manifested sexually,” Nathan adds. “And once I dealt with — reintegrated, if you will — some of those issues, those attractions, first they dissipated, and now they’re virtually gone.”

Reintegrative therapy is not the same as “conversion therapy,” and it would not have been banned under A.B. 2943, but documentaries like this one might have been. This documentary gives hope to men struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction, and that hope may be interpreted as a threat.

Ultimately, A.B. 2943 represented “an unwanted intrusion of the government into therapy,” Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., founder and clinical director at the Reintegrative Therapy Association, told PJ Media. “Everyone should have the freedom and right to depict their own therapy goals. The clients should be in the drivers’ seat, not the politicians.”

Even if A.B. 2943 would not have threatened books or movies telling the stories of ex-gay people, it would have forced therapists to deny serving patients who themselves wanted to pursue sexual orientation change efforts.

More insidiously, A.B. 2943 would have banned efforts to promote or provide therapy for people questioning transgender identity. Many people have rejected transgender identity even after becoming permanently scarred by hormones and surgery. LGBT identities should not be treated as a one-way street, and people should be able to seek and find therapy, whatever their personal goals.

After all, the “Q” often added to “LGBT” stands for “questioning.”

Low deserves praise for dropping his bill, but he needs to understand that there is more than one way of looking at these issues. Here’s hoping his conversations with religious leaders continue.