Legislative bans on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) -- usually, but not exclusively, targeted at therapy for minors offered by licensed mental health providers -- have spread from California to 19 other states, as well as dozens of municipalities, since 2012. These bills are a shocking and unprecedented assault upon freedom of speech and religion, as well as upon ethical principles such as client autonomy and client-therapist privacy.
Fortunately, the beginning of the end may be in sight for this outrageous totalitarianism, in the wake of a decision Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. By a 2-1 vote, a panel of judges struck down two local therapy bans in Florida, ruling that "these ordinances are content-based and viewpoint-based restrictions on speech," and thus "violate the First Amendment." Debate over whether SOCE (referred to by its critics as "conversion therapy") is effective or harmful will continue -- but the government may not impose its view upon that debate by regulating what is said in a therapist's office, the court said.
Family Research Council made another contribution to that debate yesterday with the publication of a new Issue Analysis, titled "No Proof of Harm: 79 Key Studies Provide No Scientific Proof That Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) Are Usually Harmful." We undertook a year-long literature review of all 79 sources in a published list of peer-reviewed academic writings that purportedly "include measures of harm" from SOCE. We found that even this exhaustive list of sources provided no scientific proof that SOCE is more harmful than other forms of therapy, more harmful than other courses of action for those with same-sex attractions, or more likely to be harmful than helpful for the average client.
The 11th Circuit decision in Otto v. Boca Raton creates a circuit split with two other appeals courts that previously upheld therapy bans in California and New Jersey. That increases the likelihood that this issue will eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. However, we don't have to guess at how the court feels about the claim that "professional speech" (like that in therapy) does not enjoy First Amendment protection. The Supreme Court already rejected that view -- explicitly criticizing the previous therapy ban rulings -- in a 2018 case dealing with pregnancy center regulations (NIFLA v. Becerra).
LGBT activists long demanded the government stay out of the bedroom. Soon, it will be out of the therapist's office as well.