LDS church won’t oppose bill introduced by GOP lawmakers to ban LGBT conversion therapy

Composite stock image, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two Republican lawmakers are pushing to ban gay conversion therapy for minors in Utah with a proposal that’s being hailed as a milestone by advocates and reportedly won’t be opposed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The bill, Prohibition of the Practice of Conversion Therapy Upon Minors, is being sponsored by Rep. Craig Hall of West Valley City and Sen. Dan McCay of Riverton, both Republicans. McCay acknowledged Thursday he wasn’t a typical sponsor for such a measure, but he said he wants to help support LGBT youth in a state that’s seen a recent spike in youth suicide.

“This is the Utah we want,” McCay said. “This the Utah we’re all going to fight for, for the rest of our time so we deliver a place to you that you are welcome.”

HB 399 would prohibit any treatment aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity, ranging from practices like electric shock to talk therapy. Therapists who practice it could lose their license; however, the ban would not apply to religious leaders.

The American Psychological Association opposes therapy seeking to change sexual orientation, and the Utah legislation comes during a national campaign to ban the practice, which is now outlawed in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

However, there has been pushback, with lawsuits challenging the bans as violating free-speech and religious freedom rights. Appeals courts have upheld the bans so far, though a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on professional speech could give new life to the lawsuits, said Mat Staver with the conservative Liberty Counsel.

Shannon Minter with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is helping lead the national campaign to ban the practice, says there’s a history of the practice in Utah, and the new proposal is a landmark step.

On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that the LDS church had announced they wouldn’t oppose the legislation, which hadn’t been officially introduced to the Legislature yet but which church leaders had already been involved in.

Marty Stephens, a lobbyist for the LDS church, said supporters of the proposal have worked with the church to address concerns about religious freedom and make sure that counseling in line with church teachings on marriage and sexuality won’t come under the proposed ban.

While the LDS church still opposes same-sex marriage and sexual intimacy, it has taken a more welcoming stance to LGBT people in recent years. In 2016, church leaders declared that same-sex attraction is not a sin, a shift that came eight years after a backlash over the church’s role helping lead the 2008 fight for California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

Wednesday’s announcement by the church is key in part because LGBT members have historically reported that church leaders encouraged them to attend therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation, said Troy Williams with the group Equality Utah.

“We are grateful that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes the harms of conversion therapy and has denounced the practice,” he said.

Those who have been through conversion therapy, like 19-year-old Nathan Dalley, said it leaves them depressed and can indeed lead to suicide attempts.

Nathan Dalley speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2019, in Salt Lake City. Those who have been through conversion therapy, like 19-year-old Dalley, say it leaves them depressed and can lead to suicide attempts. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

“At the time I hated the fact that I’m gay more than anything else about myself,” he said of his 16-year-old self, adding that his therapist had told him that he could change if he snapped a rubber band on his wrist to dissuade himself every time he had “gay thoughts,” as well as playing more sports and talking in a more masculine voice.

It didn’t work, he said, and led to a downward spiral, although he said he has since pulled himself out.

“Conversion therapy is still happening today,” Dalley said. “It’s harmful, and it still affects me in multiple ways every day.”

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues

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Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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