Don’t Even Think About It

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“Don’t even think about it.” Perhaps those of you who are parents have said this to your children on occasion. Well, now the State of California is sending that same message to you, your children, and any of your children’s doctors or therapists.

To what am I referring? Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Catholic, signed into law SB 1172, a bill designed to prohibit individuals under the age of eighteen from receiving treatment for unwanted homosexual attractions.

The legislation is sweeping in effect. What if an individual under the age of eighteen wants to be rid of homosexual urges? Too bad. What if a minor’s parents and a doctor or licensed therapist propose to the minor a plan of treatment designed to reverse same-sex attraction? The State of California says, “Stop right there.” There are no exceptions, not even for minors who suffer sexual abuse at an early age and then become conflicted with same-sex attraction in adolescence or puberty.

The bill applies to “mental health providers,” a broad term that includes not only psychiatrists and psychologists, but also social workers and marriage and family therapists. Violations will result in penalties imposed by the relevant state licensing agency—including potential licensure revocation.

The Golden State’s latest legislation is part of a recent surge in government efforts to regulate professional conduct in several areas previously untouched by state intrusion. For example, in the past couple of years a few states have made aggressive attempts to force private pharmacists, against their consciences, to provide contraceptives and abortifacients. Some politicians have argued that medical professionals unwilling to assist in abortions should stay out of certain areas of health care altogether. Massachusetts State Attorney General Martha Coakley—another Catholic politician—infamously said that Roman Catholics “probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

Yet SB 1172 represents a new twist in the emerging trend. Because it touches on the treatment of minors, this law intrudes, not only upon the professional judgment of mental health care providers, but also upon the parent-child relationship. And, for those who crafted the legislation, this was not an afterthought. As the bill’s author, State Senator Ted Lieu, explained, “The attack on parental rights is exactly the whole point of the bill . . .” The aim is to keep parents from parenting, at least when it comes to their child’s sexual identity.

Popular culture already bombards the youth of America with shows, movies, and music that present homosexual attraction and activity as normal, healthy, or even heroic. Given the pervasive influence of such entertainment, it should come as no surprise that some teenagers become interested in homosexual activity.

Thoughts lead to action. Kids will make mistakes. Centuries of experience testify to the fact that adolescence can be a trying time. Moreover, new forms of entertainment and rapid communication make it increasingly difficult for parents to compete with and respond to the messages their children receive daily from the surrounding culture. Sometimes parents need the help of trusted professionals to redress the harm done to their children. SB 1172 forecloses this option.

The categorical and impersonal decision of a group of lawmakers is no substitute for parental guidance and the advice of mental health professionals. Minors struggling with sexual identity should have options other than simple surrender to homosexual urges. Unfortunately for Californians, their government disagrees. To any family that attempts to channel such urges toward more normative sexual behavior, SB 1172 sends a clear message: don’t even think about it.

Image: California state flag