MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now, we turn to California. Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a landmark piece of legislation banning a controversial form of therapy that is meant to change the sexual orientation of children under 18. Supporters of the ban say the so-called gay to straight conversion therapy can psychologically scar patients in the worst possible ways and there's no medical evidence that it works.
California state Senator Ted Lieu is with us now. He's the author of the bill banning gay to straight conversion therapy, but for another perspective, we have with us Mat Staver. He is the chairman of the Liberty Counsel. That's one of the legal groups, many with conservative and religious affiliations that are hoping to overturn the ban in California.
And I welcome you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.
SENATOR TED LIEU: Thank you.
MAT STAVER: Thank you.
MARTIN: Senator Lieu, you are not a mental health professional. As I understand it, you're an attorney. Do I have that right?
LIEU: That is correct.
MARTIN: How did you get interested in this topic?
LIEU: Last year, I watched a show on television. It was a news show and it was documenting reparative therapy, otherwise known as gay conversion therapy, and it talked about a person named Kirk Murphy who went through the sissy boy experiments, and he was held up as, you know, someone that they were able to convert and change and then, later, he committed suicide. And it was very clear for me that this therapy was evil and, earlier this year, a group called Equality California came to my office with an idea on reparative therapy and I jumped at the opportunity to carry the bill.
MARTIN: Mat Staver, there is a religious exemption, as I understand it. Why isn't that sufficient?
STAVER: Well, first of all, this particular bill negatively impacts the minors that we represent, their parents and the many counselors we represent in association has over 50,000 licensed mental health professionals from around the country and even around the world that are very concerned with this because, either way, on January 1, 2013, they will be forced to violate their ethical codes.
Clients have a right to self-determination. They have a right to seek counseling of their choice. They have a right to align their religious and moral values with the counseling that they choose. And, effective January 1, counselors will not be able to provide or refer to that counseling. That will violate the ethical codes that they operate under. And this is unprecedented that the government would come in and think that it has the wherewithal and the expertise to tell every single minor and parent and counselor a viewpoint that they can or can not receive. And that is clearly a viewpoint-based discrimination that's absolutely shocking and literally unprecedented.
MARTIN: Senator, what about that point of view? I mean, it is the case that the state does intervene in a number of parenting habits or, particularly, things that were habits in the past. Many states now intervene when physical discipline goes too far or there are also some states that intervene in certain medical practices. But what about Mr. Staver's point that this interjects between a parent having - being able to pass on his or her values or medical professionals being able to pass on a certain point of view. What about that?
LIEU: Parents don't have the right to harm their children and I'm a parent of two kids and I'm a strong supporter of parental rights, but we don't allow parents to harm their children and reparative therapy has been rejected by the entire house of medicine. They have said, not only does it not work, but it harms patients. That's why the American Psychiatric Association says this practice poses great harms and the California Psychological Association supported this law.
So we view it as a practice of medicine, not a viewpoint law and that's why the courts will uphold it.
MARTIN: Mr. Staver?
STAVER: Senator Lieu's statements there, I want to point out, are just absolutely ignorant of this particular subject matter. First of all, there's no counseling organization in the country, no ethical code that exists in America under any counseling organization - you name whatever it is that says you can not do sexual orientation change therapy. That's number one.
LIEU: The American Psychiatric Association tells its psychiatrists, do not do this practice.
STAVER: That is not prohibited. There is nothing in the country, no ethical...
LIEU: That's why there's a law now to prohibit it.
STAVER: Well, your statement says that they prohibit it. That is absolutely incorrect.
LIEU: They tell their psychiatrists do not do this practice.
MARTIN: Well, all right. How about this? How about this, Senator Lieu? Why don't we let Mr. Staver make his point and then you can address it? How about that? Let's let...
MARTIN: ...Mr. Staver finish his point.
STAVER: (Unintelligible) keep using the word reparative therapy. Reparative therapy is one kind of many kinds of therapies or counseling or therapeutic interventions with regards to someone who is experiencing unwanted same-sex sexual attractions. This law covers the entire gamut, not just reparative therapy.
MARTIN: Senator Lieu, what if a minor child himself wishes this kind of therapy? What if a 16-year-old goes to his parents and says, I don't want to experience same-sex attraction. I would like to be treated by someone who will help me not have these feelings. Is that outlawed here?
LIEU: What a mainstream psychologist or psychiatrist would say is, we will help you cope with your feelings, but the one thing we will not do is seek to change your sexual orientation from gay to straight because the medical literature says that can not be done and, if we try to do it, it will harm you psychologically.
MARTIN: Senator Lieu, this addresses licensed professionals, right? Medical professionals who take their code of ethics from groups like the American Psychological Association, for example, the American Medical Association, but it doesn't address people who receive their training in kind of a religious context and still consider themselves therapists. Would it?
LIEU: It would not apply to priests or pastors or spiritual counselors. It applies to psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed therapists, so we view it as the practice of medicine. A priest of pastor, under this law, could still teach whatever they want, but it's very different when a doctor tells you that you can change from gay to straight and then they try to do it to you. That's a very different experience than to listen to a priest talk to you about what religion may or may not teach.
MARTIN: But, given that you already said that the medical guidelines of these professional associations already take the point of view that this is not legitimate therapy and does not work, why is there a need for this law? Why isn't preventing this practice governed by their own professional canon of ethics and best practices?
LIEU: That's a great question because, as the opposition has noted, a psychiatrist can ignore what the American Psychiatric Association is saying, so all my law does - it says, if you do this, then the licensing boards can take your license away from you. It basically provides enforcement of what people should not be doing already.
MARTIN: Mr. Staver?
STAVER: Yes. It does say that when someone comes to a counselor - and they're not medical doctors - that's a psychiatrist. Most counselors are not doctors. But when someone comes to a counselor that says, I've got these unwanted same-sex attractions. Based upon other value systems that I have, I don't want to act on them. Can you ultimately help me to resolve that and prioritize my religious or moral values so that I don't act on - or at least reduce or help manage this? The psychologist, counselor, whatever it is, licensed in California, will not be able to counsel that individual or refer that individual according to that client's specific wishes of how that client wants to be counseled.
Under this particular law, the counselor has to ignore the client's wishes, and if they don't, they violate the law.
MARTIN: OK. Senator Lieu, this is your bill, so I'm going to give you the final word on why you think that this bill will be upheld.
LIEU: Patients don't go to psychiatrists and psychologists for viewpoints. They go to them for treatment. The entire house of medicine has said gay conversion therapy not only does not work, it harms patients. And so this law will be upheld because we're talking about treating patients - and every medical organization has looked at this has told their own practitioners, do not try to change someone from gay to straight because you can't do it and, if you try to, they'll have feelings of guilt, self-hatred, shame and some of them will commit suicide.
MARTIN: Well, we are not going to resolve this here. Evidently, that is what the courts are for, but I do thank you both for a spirited and interesting conversation and I thank you both for being civil in what is obviously a very emotional and important topic. So thank you both.
Ted Lieu is a California state senator. He's the author of the bill that we've been discussing. It bans gay to straight conversion therapy. He joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Mat Staver is the chair of the Liberty Counsel. That is a legal group hoping to overturn the law and he joined us from Lynchburg, Virginia.
And I thank you both so much again.
LIEU: Thank you.
STAVER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.