ST PAUL, Minn. — A House panel Wednesday approved a bill that would ban conversion therapy, also known as restorative therapy, for children in Minnesota.
That form of counseling is designed to change a gay person's sexual orientation or "cure" someone of being attracted to someone of the same gender. The issue returned to the national spotlight after the release of the motion picture "Boy Erased" last year.
The House legislation, authored by Democrat Rep. Hunter Cantrell of Savage, would also require licensed therapists and counselors to warn adults seeking such treatment that it has been discredited by every major medical organization as ineffective.
It wouldn't apply to free counseling offered by churches and clergy.
"We will not tolerate in our state any longer discredited, harmful and unscientific practices that harm children, vulnerable people or any patient," Rep. Cantrell told reporters.
The bill, formally known as the Mental Health Protections Act, passed the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee on a party line vote of 10 to 6, with all DFL members supporting it and all GOP members opposed.
Democrat Rep. Peter Fischer of Maplewood said he came to support the ban on conversion therapy because of his work at a youth shelter. He said many homeless teenagers he met had run away from parents who had tried to undo their LGBTQ sexual orientation.
Republican Rep. Tony Albright of Prior Lake called the practice "horrific and terribly upsetting" but opposed the bill because he believe's it's overly broad. Albright said he doubted it could withstand a court challenge because it could be perceived as government regulating which ideas professionals are allowed to express.
Benjamin Feist, an attorney with the ACLU of Minnesota, said it's an unsettled legal question but courts have allowed reasonable regulation of speech involving something outside the realm of normal medical practice.
The bill's next stop is the House Commerce Committee. The Senate version, authored by Sen. Scott Dibble, has yet to be guaranteed a hearing this year.
Valentines and outrage
Earlier in the day, a coalition led by Outfront Minnesota distributed Valentine's cards to lawmakers, urging them to support the bill.
Lawmakers and reporters also heard from several people who were sent to conversion therapy by their parents and clergy and are still traumatized by the experience.
"My parents and I were lied to. Fraud was committed against my family," Wil Sampson-Bernstrom declared, saying he became depressed and suicidal after four years of conversion therapy from counselors who tried to figure out what had gone wrong in his early childhood.
"I was told consistently that I was a threat to other people, that I was living a sin that I could change. How do you live after that?"
Roger Sanchez said after two years of conversion therapy he as confused and depressed.
"I pleaded with God, and I prayed and thought I was forgotten. It took later, finding people who loved me for who I was to realize that there was nothing broken, that I was perfect."
Sanchez and Sampson-Bernstrom were among those who testified in favor of the bill.
Opponents said the bill's language was overly broad and would amount to regulating free speech based on the content.
"This bill censors constitutionally protected speech by licensed counselors, clients and others, based on content and viewpoint," Renee Carlson, an attorney with North Star Law and Policy, told lawmakers.
Carl Nelson of Transform MN, a statewide evangelical organization, said the bill doesn't provide an avenue for those who voluntarily want therapy to deal with sexual orientation questions.
"Some people do want to change their feelings of same-sex attraction or identify with their biological sex," Nelson asserted.
Nate Oyloe testified that he voluntarily went through therapy and successfully warded off feelings of attraction to other males. He said he's been happy married to a woman for years and doesn't want others to be denied the same opportunity.
"It is not the place of Minnesota legislators to hinder the church of Minnesota from providing information and care to people who are questioning their sexuality orientation and gender identity."