Faith Groups Oppose Teen 'Conversion Therapy' Bill

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California lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban therapy for teenagers wanting to change their sexual orientation.

The legislation is the first of its kind in the country, and faith-based groups are now speaking out in opposition.

Conversion therapy is a controversial treatment meant to help a person change his or her attraction to the same sex. Supporters and critics are sharply divided on the issue.

"They want to institutionalize homosexuality, and they don't want anything at all in any way to treat homosexuality as something that can be changed," Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said.

Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu ,the bill's author, said conversion therapy "can be dangerous" and "cause extreme depression and guilt."

But mental health experts argue that research on the issue is lacking proof of those claims and therefore, not conclusive.

"There really aren't any studies of adolescents seeking this type of therapy," said Dr. Mark Yarhouse, leader of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity.

A task force of the American Psychological Association added that, "There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not sexual orientation change efforts do or do not work."

The group did, however, caution parents to avoid such therapy for their children.

Yarhouse said he believes without significant research to credit or discredit conversion therapy, it's premature to try and ban the practice.

"What I would conclude right now is that we don't have enough well-designed studies to say whether or not it is effective for a certain percentage of people," he explained. "So I think we should be cautious about what we provide and what we say to the public about this."

"But that's a far cry from making this illegal," Yarhouse added.

Some faith-based groups claim the proposed bill violates parents' rights.

"Parents certainly have the right to direct the health care of their children, and that should include their mental healthcare as well as their physical health care," said Peter Spring, senior fellow for Policy Studies for the Family Research Council.

A coalition of California mental health groups currently oppose the bill, saying it "could chill legitimate exploration of gender identity and sexual orientation."

Exodus International, the world's largest Christian referral network for ministering to homosexuals, said it doesn't engage in policy matters and refused to comment on the debate.

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