The Supreme Court Refuses to Review California’s Ban on Ex-Gay “Conversion Therapy”

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June 30 2014 4:10 PM

The Supreme Court Refuses to Review California’s Ban on Ex-Gay “Conversion Therapy”

164680529-members-of-the-public-enter-the-supreme-court-march-26
Members of the public enter the Supreme Court on March 26, 2013.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling upholding California’s ban on gay “conversion therapy,” allowing the law to stand. Advocates for such therapy—mostly conservative Christians—insist that the ban violates would-be therapists’ freedom of speech. Following the court’s move, they’ll likely turn their sights to a similar law in New Jersey in another attempt to appeal their case to the justices.

As I’ve written before, California and New Jersey’s bans on anti-gay “conversion therapy” are very obviously constitutional. They don’t forbid parents or relatives or friends or preachers from attempting to convert gay people to heterosexuality. These laws only prevent licensed mental health professionals from “converting” patients; if they break the law, they simply lose their license. It’s a narrowly tailored, eminently sensible way to curb a dangerous, suicide-inducing practice that is condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association.

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Given that these bans are laser-focused to target a single, destructive practice, I’d be surprised if the Supreme Court agreed to review the New Jersey ban—or any other similarly worded law. The constitutional question is just so easy that the case would be a waste of the justices’ time at this point. My greater fear is that a dark blue state will overreach, pulling non-professionals into the sweep of the law. If that happens, the conservative Christians who want to force young Americans into the misery of “conversion” would actually have a case.

Still, at this point, states are playing it smart, writing precise statutes that refrain from burning down the house to roast the pig. If more states adopt the California model, the justices might never need to hear the contemptible fiction of “ex-gay conversion therapy” uttered in their courtroom. 

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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