Reparative therapy cannot be justified

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law last week banning California parents from subjecting children with homosexual feelings to reparative therapy — or, as it is more colloquially known, “praying away the gay.” In response, critics have taken up arms against the ban, calling it an infringement on religious liberties.

Yiwen Fu | Daily Trojan

Despite the fundamental importance of religious freedom in a democracy such as the United States, to claim that reparative therapy falls under our First Amendment right clouds the true nature of individual liberties in America. As tolerant individuals, we as Americans must identify the clear distinction between freely practicing one’s religion and forcing damaging practices on others under the guise of religious freedom.

Reparative therapy is a sham of a treatment touted by proponents as a “cure” for homosexuality. In many therapy sessions, a religious leader aims to invoke the power of God to squelch the recipient’s physical attraction to people of the same sex. Other, less religious therapists use sessions to attempt to pinpoint the source of homosexuality in individuals and to help them past this “trauma.”

The bill in question that Brown signed into law, Senate Bill 1172, will take effect Jan. 1 and does not outlaw reparative therapy specifically, but instead bans practitioners from working with unwilling minors to change their sexuality. The governor’s hope, as he declared when signing the bill into law, is that SB 1172 will help push the practice toward the “dustbin of quackery,” but proponents of reparative therapy are fiercely pushing back against what they incorrectly label as an abridgement of religious freedom.

David Pickup, a spokesman for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, is just one of many people filing lawsuits against the state in an effort to repeal the law. He calls the new legislation “the height of political and therapeutic irresponsibility.” But the bill merely prohibits parents and guardians from forcibly subjecting their children to a practice that has been shown to be damaging to impressionable minors.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, reparative therapy amplifies depression and anxiety disorders and increases the risk of suicidal behavior in individuals undergoing the treatment. Such evidence clearly displays the potential dangers of this practice, especially for those who do not undergo “treatment” completely of their own volition. Though the government should not prevent consenting adults from reparative therapy, it does have a responsibility to protect children from practices that might prove harmful to them.

Those who argue that the legislation is an attack on the First Amendment are missing the point of religious liberties and individual rights. These constitutional provisions exist not to allow adults to subject children to such misguided practices as reparative therapy, but to protect all individuals from arbitrary exercises of state power that seek to prevent them from practicing their religion.

Sending one’s child to “pray away the gay” does not count as practicing religion. The bill does not prevent speech against homosexuality, nor does it bar individuals from prayer or free worship. It merely serves as a necessary ban on something that can be incredibly detrimental to a child’s long-term mental health and personal well-being.

The flurry of lawsuits against the state in response to the bill is to be expected and is a function of the First Amendment right to free speech. The outcomes of these cases, though, must serve to firmly communicate what religious liberty really entails.

Nobody, including bigots who mask their intolerance with claims of piety, should be able to force their prejudices upon children. Brown’s action is a positive step toward protecting children from what could be called emotional abuse, not an attack on religious freedom.

We must always staunchly defend the freedom to practice one’s own religion without interference from the state, as it remains absolutely vital to any liberal democracy. But that  right does not extend to people who aim to influence the freedom of minors through questionable therapy.

And though Brown took the first step, the way to truly do away with reparative therapy is to generate conversation and awareness about the topic, and for Americans everywhere to defend the line between true religious freedom and abuse of a First Amendment right.


Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in political science and Middle East studies. Her column “Leaning Toward Liberty” runs Mondays.

10 replies
  1. whirligig
    whirligig says:

    This so called “reparative therapy” aka “pray away the gay” is such an archaic way of thinking and it is impossible to even comprehend how some people actually believe that this should be done!!!!!! what is it going to take for these naive ignorant people to understand that being born gay is NOT a choice it’s the natural way that you were born, just like being born left handed or right handed or ambidextrous! It wasn’t that long ago that adults would hit and beat very young children for being left handed! My grandmother suffered this punishment for many years for being left handed, when she passed away at the age of 89 she was still left handed……..
    “Left handedness was associated with devilry and bad luck. Superstitions that differentiate between left and right always consider the left to be bad, unfortunate, cursed, poisonous and satanic.
    The Catholic Church at one point declared that being Left Handed made you a servant of the Devil. The word ‘left’ in many languages is associated with evil, trouble or the devil. In Latin ‘left’ comes from ‘sinister’.”
    I’ll say it again……… very, very archaic thinking! I think it is fantastic that this law has passed, hopefully it will keep a lot of children from suffering the wrath of this archaic punishment.


    I also just want to put this in. To say that someone is “born gay” and that it is “who they are” is a contradiction. Who we are is not defined by how we are born or by the conditions thrust upon us, but by the choices we make. I suffer from depression, but it’s not who I am. My daughter has asperger’s, but it’s not who she is. Stop treating this as though people are trying to change who someone is. It’s not who they are until they choose it, even if you could argue that they are born with it.

    • Emily
      Emily says:

      You don’t CHOOSE Aspergers or depression, do you???? Did you seek treatment or therapy for your depression? Treatment, therapy, or and IEP for your child? (BTW government doesn’t provide special services for LGBTs that they do for children with autism, Aspergers, etc.). THAT was your choice. No one calls you “Depression” or your child “Aspergers.” Yet we want to thrust this upon LBGTs? We have to label LGBTs. No it isn’t who they are, you are right about that. It isn’t anyone’s else’s business, and they should have the same rights to equality, civil rights and marriage as those like yourself with depression, or Aspergers, or cancer, or anything else they are born with, or choose. And religious entities aren’t telling you they can cure you when you have Aspergers or depression. Maybe they, for example the Catholic church, should concentrate on their sins and not the perceived sins they project upon others to deflect their shame. I guess it really is all about context, whichever is most convenient. I don’t understand your point, did African Americans “choose” to be second class citizens prior to the 1960s? (And beyond)?


    Let’s be objective here! In any branch of therapy there are always quacks, but that doesn’t mean we should ban or discount that branch of therapy. The fact that this article cites repairative therapy as “praying the gay away” shows the author is not interested in report this responsibly, since that phrase comes from one of the more radical forms and is not what repairative therapy is. The APA bases their opinion of repairative therapy on these radical forms but hasn’t conducted any serious study. Some parents my force their kids to engage in the therapy, but fault the parents for that, not the therapy. To ban this therapy from all minors is just ridiculous and irresponsible unless there’s some more serious study on the subject. We may be preventing someone from getting what they really need.

  4. Gabriel
    Gabriel says:

    Interesting. Someone has copied the screen name “Gabriel” and it using it to make slurs offensive to many apparently not liking my comments related to USC Greek life issues.

    In addition to the slur above, other have included the screen name H8 Gabe and a response to “Gaye”. The same responder to Gaye provide the comment below to an abortion bill article:

    King FrattyCommented October 3, 2012 (5 days ago) at 5:22 PM | Reply
    Mind your own business people! Sometimes I go bareback with the ladies and things get out of control. I need this to keep my lifestyle unhindered by some mini-me

    In short span, those identifying themselves as Greeks have demeaned gays in genreral, identified me as gay (which I am not) and never addressed in any salient way the issue of Greek life not keeping pace with the greater intellect and social sophistication of students USC is attracting on its path to greatness. In fact, the comments greatly underscore my concerns.

    “Bareback with the ladies”–what female student with multiple acceptance choices would want to enter KF’s fantasy or real world promoting unsafe sex at USC?

    I repeat my comment–the IFC needs to up their game. If they cannot, USC admin needs to step in to prevent erosion of the exceptional gains in stature for USC with exceptional faculty, programming and student additions. In either case, there needs to be night and weekend entertainment options on campus, ideally at Tudor for the more sophisticated undergraduate students, grad and faculty. That is not hard to arrange. Not everyone wants to go “bareback with the ladies” or be one of them.

    • King Fratty II
      King Fratty II says:

      I actually support your gay lifestyle. I have several gay frat bros in my house. They happen to be some of my closest bros. Your anti-row bias is over the top. Maybe the problem is you?

  5. Chris
    Chris says:

    It is unfortunate that most of the discourse heard over the topic of homosexuality has more to do with “political correctness” and hardly anything to do with science.

    I am undergoing reparative/sexual orientation change therapy with a California licensed therapist located in Beverly Hills California and am adding my personal experience to the current politically motivated and unscientific debate within the State of California on this issue to make reparative/sexual orientation change therapy “unethical” or increase restrictions on the same.

    I am a male and my first male “boyfriend”, 22 years ago, was a gay identified man. Fortunately, at that time, I knew that identifying as a gay man was a false construct I was creating for myself and being affirmed by the gay affirming society that we live in, and I subsequently broke off the relationship with him. After many positive and self-affirming years of reparative/sexual orientation change therapy I have come to the whole-hearted truth about myself: that my seeking “romantic” and sexual relationships with other men was a repetitive compulsion to get my family of origin and emotionally absent “father” to love me. As is common with most gay-identified and sexually addicted men, I grew up with severe emotional neglect from my father and mother. Not only was my father “never there” emotionally or physically; my mother made me into her “surrogate husband” and proceeded to have an emotionally incestuous relationship with me.

    As a consequence of this dysfunctional triad, I proceeded to have no interest in the opposite sex because my mother had made sure that I never detached from her and that I never formed a healthy attachment to my father or any other man. I was in a hostile dependency with my mother, where I needed her for survival but I couldn’t stand her at the same time. During this period and later, my mother shamed me into never asserting myself as a boy or man.

    As a result of this emotionally incestuous relationship with my mother, I grew to overly identify with women, had major gender identity issues, hence my feminized mannerisms, but also held no interest in developing intimate attachments or sexual relations with the opposite sex. I had “had enough with women” via my narcissistic/abusive mother.

    In my journey in, and then out of homosexuality, I saw a number of gay affirming therapists, attended numerous gay affirmative 12-step programs and support groups, I participated in several “gay pride” parades, and lived very much in a gay affirmative world in West Hollywood, California. I read a wide variety of gay-affirmative literature and even attempted living the gay lifestyle. I was told over and over again was that I was born gay and I should just accept myself for “who I am”. I was also told by several gay affirming therapists that I had “internalized homophobia”. That is, that I hated myself for being gay.


    Essentially, as much as I tried to make the “gay identity” work for me it never did.

    My sexual relations with other men had their foundations built on a total lack of affection, attention and affirmation from my father and a repetitive compulsion to repeat my childhood sexual abuse.

    I was looking for love in all the wrong places.

    I am grateful every day for my sexual orientation change therapy that has saved my life and me from a false identity and a life that would have never worked for me.

    It appears that the proposed lawl in the California Legislature on reperative therapy by will mean that now the California State Legislature is discriminating against me seeking my own identity and instead being forced to adapt to what the California Legislature feel is valuable and important to a group of gay affirming people and their own political agenda.

    Whatever happened to patient autonomy? I have a right to determine my own identity and who I chose to sleep with and have intimate romantic relationships with.

    In my opinion, the State of California is being negligent and completely unscientific in the introduction of such a bill to make reparative/sexual orientation change therapy a restricted form of treatment.

    If the State Legislature of California decides to take such a path, it will most likely suffer the consequences of purporting to be a human rights and tolerant affirming organization and instead be labeled as politically motivated with a gay affirming agenda; which cares more about being politically correct than being scientifically valid.

    Without reparative/sexual orientation change therapy I would not have discovered that my childhood sexual molestation at the hands of another man, significantly distorted my worldview and my relationships with other men.

    Reparative/sexual orientation change therapy is healing me. It has made me a more self-loving, and helped me receive and give love to others, and has helped me feel much better about myself and who I really am.

    I’m so grateful that I did not listen to the gay affirming and politically motivated society and instead, listened to real science and my own inner truth. That is, I am not gay nor was I ever born gay.

    It seems that many gay affirming and “politically correct” politicians in the California State Legislature want to ensure that the option of reparative/sexual orientation change therapy, which has helped me tremendously, must cease and not be available to me or anyone else.

    This is an intolerant position, which does not reflect the “diversity affirming” rhetoric within the same sex attraction community. As a minority I have experienced significant discrimination in my lifetime. This discrimination is a doubley damaging to me and will adversely affect my autonomy as a patient.

    Reparative/sexual orientation change therapy has been a very positive and healing experience in my life and it is morally ethical to keep it that way.

    Yours Truthfully,

    Chris W.

  6. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    I agree with Gov. Brown in stopping this abuse for religious motives. This so-called “therapy” has rarely been successful and most often is highly destructive psychologically to the children being subjected to this terrible ordeal.

    In terms of the religious rights of parents; however, what about those cases where children suffer life-long crippling or death, because the parents refuse medical help, but place all their reliance on prayer?

    What does California law say about that?

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