Dueling District Court Judges Put Gay Therapy Ban in Limbo

Saturday, December 08, 2012
(Photo: Daniel Gonzalez, Flickr)

Two judges from the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of California delivered diametrically opposed rulings on California’s newly-passed law banning gay-conversion therapy for underage youths, setting up a showdown in the appellate courts.


The law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October, prohibits mental health providers from using “sexual orientation change efforts” on minors. Those who do are engaging in unprofessional conduct and are subject to discipline by state licensing boards.


Judge William Shubb, a George H. W. Bush appointee, went first on Monday, issuing a temporary injunction against enforcement of the law against three plaintiffs who sued to block it. Citing a possible infringement on plaintiffs’ First Amendment right of free speech because the controversial reparative therapy involves talking, Shubb said speech was central to the law.


Shubb reviewed the legislative record of the Senate Bill 1172 and concluded that lawmakers were wrong to rely on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies” about the harm done to minors by therapy that attempts to change their sexual orientation.

His ruling applies only to the three people named in the case before him, but indicated he would have extended the injunction to all licensed therapists if it had been filed as a class-action suit.


The day after Shubb’s ruling, fellow U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, an appointee of President Barack Obama, rejected a petition from four counselors, two families, a professional therapists organization and a Christian therapists group to block the law.


She cited research by 10 groups, including the American Psychological Association, that conversion therapy “can pose critical health risks” to patients. Mueller said there was no constitutional right for people to choose a course of treatment that has reasonably been found by the state to be harmful.


Her ruling would allow the law to take effect, as scheduled, on January 1, pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.

-Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Judge Allows California Gay Conversion Therapy Ban to Take Effect (by Mary Slosson, Reuters)

Fate of Conversion Therapy Ban Unclear after 2nd Judge Weighs In (by Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

Gay Conversion Therapy Law Temporarily Blocked by Federal Judge (by Lisa Leff, Associated Press)

Federal District Judge Enjoins California's Law Prohibiting Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy (by Ruthann Robson, Constitutional Law Prof Blog)


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