A first-of-its-kind state law that would restrict parents from trying to "cure" their minor children's same-sex attractions seems headed to the governor's desk.
If both state houses can agree on the final language, the legislation, which would ban all sexual orientation change effort (SOCE) treatment for minors, will be sent to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature sometime in September. But, so far, there has been no indication from his office on whether he will sign the bill into law.
Whatever the governor does, he's sure to face criticism. Backers see it as a civil rights issue, while critics say lawmakers are infringing on not only parents' rights but also on the mission of mental health professionals.
"[The law] unconstitutionally prohibits speech…violates privacy and personal autonomy rights, intermeddles in theological disputes, clashes with other laws and creates significant unintended consequences," Matt McReynolds,, a staff attorney with Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, said.
"As long as this bill threatens to shame patients and silence counselors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, we will vigorously oppose it," McReynolds told Fox News. "We cannot afford to let the state invade the counseling room or doctor's office to dictate what views on sexuality are acceptable and unacceptable."
Sponsored by a coalition of gay rights groups led by California Equality the bill was introduced by State Sen. Ted W. Lieu (D-Redondo Beach). Lieu told Fox News his interest in the issue was sparked by a news report he saw on television in 2011.
"The story detailed the harmful impact on vulnerable minors of this kind of supposed reparative therapy," Lieu said. "So when California Equality approached me about introducing a bill to ban that kind of therapy for minors, I jumped at the chance."
Lieu also cited studies like the American Psychological Association (APA) 2009 Task Force, which reported SOCE therapy could lead to depression, feelings of shame, self-loathing, drug abuse, high-risk sexual behavior, anger, withdrawal and in some cases, even attempted suicide in minor children, if those same-sex attractions continue to persist.
Libertarian and conservative political and legal groups including McReynolds' group and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a nationwide group of conservative mental health providers based in Salt Lake City have blasted the bill.
David Pickup, a Glendale, Calif. therapist said he's been a member of NARTH for more than eight years. He told Fox News that he went through his own SOCE treatment and uses it to treat his patients.
Pickup said that although he's had thousands of sexual interactions with men, he never identified himself as being gay.
"I describe myself as being a heterosexual man with a homosexual challenge," Pickup said, adding that after his own SOCE treatment he had feelings for women and now only experienced attractions towards men "once in a blue moon."
Pickup claims that SOCE treatments work to varying degrees on "95 percent" of his patients and he vehemently opposes SB 1172 as a "violation of parental rights," and said the law would have a "chilling effect" on the ability of therapists to treat their patients.
Pickup also claims mainstream mental health groups like the APA 2009 Task Force report labeling SOCE change efforts as "posing critical health risks" to lesbian, gay and bisexual people was based solely on "anecdotal evidence."
Brad Dacus, president of PJI told Fox News that whether or not the therapy is viable isn't for lawmakers to decide. Parents, patients and therapists should not be dictated to, he said.
"This is really a serious violation of the constitutional rights of patients and counselors, a violation of privacy and an outright attack on the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children," Dacus said.
Lieu responded to the criticism by pointing out this was a health issue and his bill was written to protect the health, welfare and rights of minors who were experiencing same-sex attractions.
"We (the government) intervene all the time to restrict the rights of individuals and parents regarding health issues," Lieu told Fox News.
"We pass laws saying minors can't buy tobacco products; anyone under 21 can't legally drink alcohol and we force parents to put their very young children into car seats while they're driving," Lieu said.
While public opposition to the bill has been loud and long, it was actually opposition to portions of the legislation from mainstream mental health associations that forced Lieu and the bill's sponsors to amend it.
That opposition, which included several smaller mental health groups, was led by a coalition of the state's four largest mental health associations: the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), California Psychiatric Association, California Psychological Association and the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (CALPCC).
Today, the bill only bans SOCE treatments for minors, regardless of their parents' desires. Initially, the bill's sponsors had wanted a total ban on SOCE in the state. Also cut was a provision that subjected mental health providers to damage claims and civil suits by their former patients and immediate family members if they violated the law.
But one major sticking point remained.
Randall Hagar, Government Affairs director of the California Psychiatric Association told Fox News the coalition remained opposed because the bill's definition of SOCE was "overly broad and could have inhibited minors from discussing even legitimate issues, fears and concerns about their sexual identity with their therapists."
Dr. Jo Linder-Crow, executive director of the California Psychological Association echoed Hagar's concerns.
"It would have been too easy to misinterpret," she said. "Our concern was that proverbial law of unintended consequences and what could happen to our patients."
A compromise was finally brokered that enabled the coalition to move to a neutral position on the bill, Hagar said. In laymen's terms, Hagar said, SOCE was defined as any therapy whose sole purpose or aim was to change a person's sexual orientation from same-sex to opposite sex attraction.
Banned SOCE treatments would exclude psychotherapies that provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients' coping, social support and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices and do not seek to change sexual orientation.