Trump-Appointed Judges Approve "Conversion Therapy"

A discredited practice gets the green light from an appellate court.

Posted Nov 21, 2020

Photo by Paul M. Walsh, Creative Commons license
Source: Photo by Paul M. Walsh, Creative Commons license

Because the notion that an individual’s sexual orientation can be changed with so-called “conversion therapy” has been widely discredited, many states and municipalities have enacted laws banning the practice. Such bans, which are supported by the American Psychiatric Association and many other professional and medical organizations, have consistently been upheld when challenged in court, but that changed this week when a federal appeals court overturned two Florida bans.

The 2-1 ruling by a divided panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that conversion therapy bans enacted in Palm Beach County and the city of Boca Raton, Florida, violated the free speech rights of therapists who sought to “convert” patients, often adolescents, away from same-sex orientation. Sometimes called “reparative therapy,” conversion therapy is strongly supported by fundamentalist religious groups, and often embraces religious viewpoints and practices. An underlying assumption in conversion therapy is that same-sex orientation is a mental disorder or morally wrong, and the “therapy” itself often involves prayer.

As such, the appeals court’s ruling, handed down by two judicial appointees of President Donald Trump, can only be seen as a setback for LGBT equality and a victory for religious conservative activism. Professional and medical organizations opposing conversion therapy argue that it poses real harm to those subjected to it, particularly young people. The dangers of conversion therapy include increased risk of anxiety, depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, and suicide, according to a statement joined by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Counseling Association and over a dozen other groups.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with decisions made by other federal courts, and this increases the likelihood that the issue will be brought before the Supreme Court for final adjudication. With the court leaning further to the right in the wake of three Trump appointments in recent years, those opposing conversion therapy might have reason to worry. 

(Photo above by Paul M. Walsh used under Creative Commons license.)