On February 13 the Washington State House of Representatives delivered a blow to religious freedom when it passed HB 2451 which bans therapy for minors to help them reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction. The bill, which passed 94-4, now moves to the Senate for consideration.
This bill, modeled after similar bills in New Jersey and California, makes it professional misconduct for a licensed therapist to provide sexual orientation change therapy to minors even when the client requests it. Therefore, it makes it illegal for a licensed counselor to counsel in a way that is consistent with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or LDS understanding of sexuality...even in a church, mosque, or synagogue.
As a result, a minor with unwanted same-sex attraction will be prohibited by law from getting professional help.
It was expected that the bill would pass the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, but the final vote was surprising because of the amount of support it received. Thought to be highly controversial, the bill received nearly unanimous support even from House Republicans who, though often powerless to stop bad policy in the House, typically oppose attempts by the left to censor speech, restrict religious freedom, and interfere with family decisions.
However, this bill presented unique political challenges.
Proponents of the bill told stories about children being subjected to shock therapy and ice baths against their will. While that kind of aversive therapy is broadly condemned, there is little to no evidence that such therapy is done commonly if at all. The Washington State Department of Health said they have received no complaints about therapists performing coercive sexual orientation change therapy of any kind--much less ice baths and shock therapy-against the will of a client.
Nevertheless, rather than simply ban shock treatments and ice baths, this bill makes it illegal for licensed therapists to perform talk therapy as well, even if the client requests it.
The broad support for the bill could be attributable to the potential political liability of opposing it. One can easily imagine messages like, “Representative X voted against a bill that would protect children from being thrown into ice baths! Representative X supports child abuse!?!?”
Deceptive, negative campaign messages aren’t exactly new inventions in political campaigns.
This bill raises a dilemma every politician faces: “What kind of compromises am I willing to make if not compromising could mean I lose my ability to do any good at all?”
For the voter, this vote raises a different question: “If I can’t count on you to vote against bills that violate core principles of religious freedom, what can I count on you for?”
No one has bad intentions. But the view can look very different depending on where your seat is.
The bill was amended and improved to a degree, but even after the amendments, the bill’s primary purpose-to prohibit counselors from being able to communicate a particular perspective on same-sex attraction-remained intact.
While the vote allowed the bill to pass the House of Representatives, the strong support for the bill in the House increased its chances of success in the Senate.
The Washington State Senate is comprised of a bi-partisan Majority Coalition Caucus of 23 Republicans and 2 Democrats that has formed around budgetary issues. The coalition does not necessarily agree on social policy. Therefore, in order to remain united they have agreed not to take up controversial social issues.
However, when a bill comes out of the House with the appearance of broad support, it could embolden more leftist members of the Majority Coalition to join with leftist Democrats to pass the bill. After all, if it passed the House 94-4, how controversial can it really be?
It could pass with a strong majority of the Senate as well for fear of campaign mailers accusing Senators of supporting child abuse.
Welcome to the sausage factory.
That being said, the debate over this bill is far from over. It was always expected that the bill would pass the House so the debate will really heat up in the Senate.
Your involvement now is more important than ever!
A hearing has been scheduled for 10 am on Thursday, February 20th in the John A. Cherberg Building. Be there!
Child abuse is not ok. If that is happening, everyone wants to stop it. Coercion by licensed counselors is already professional misconduct. If that is happening, there is already a way to address it. File a complaint with the licensing authority.
This bill denies patients the rights to seek the kind of counseling they want simply because the legislature doesn’t think they should want it. Why is that fair?
You can call your legislators about HB 2451 or any other issue through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here.
Your involvement is critical. By attending hearings, contacting your legislators, and encouraging your friends to do the same, we all can help make sure that good policy also makes for good politics.