Recently, Superior became the eighth Wisconsin city to instate a counseling ban on “conversion therapy,” preventing teens who are struggling with unwanted homosexual attraction from seeking the help they want. The Star Tribune reports that a number of Minnesota cities are considering similar measures, after a state-wide ban failed to pass last session. If this is the case, it is certainly cause for concern, as these counseling bans are an attack on free speech, and an intrusion upon counselor-client relationships. 

The conversation around “conversion therapy bans” often presents conversion therapy in horrific terms, but this is a strawman argument. In a statement to the Star Tribune Superior Mayor Jim Paine described “conversion therapy” as “unethical” “child abuse” and “torture.” His statement echoes many of the arguments made at the city council meeting by advocates of the ban.

 When Maryland passed a similar ban, Liberty Counsel Assistant Vice President of Legal Affairs, Roger Gannam, pointed out that this narrative is false: "In 2019, you're not going to find stuff like that happening, and if you do, those people should be held to account for improper and unethical practices, but the kind of counseling that we are talking about – the counselors whom we represent – it's like any other kind of mental health counseling.”

No one supports coercive or abusive “therapy” methods. In order to have an actual discussion about the effect of these bans, there needs to be an honest discussion of what these bans are actually targeting.

The reality is that these counseling bans prohibit minors from seeking help in dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction, and target any counselor who does not encourage them to embrace an LGBT lifestyle, even if that lifestyle goes against the client’s goals. Counseling bans are an attack on free speech, an intrusion on counselor-client relationships, and harmful to minors who are seeking help. Recognition of this fact is not limited to religious organizations. In 2017, the Rhode Island ACLU opposed “conversion therapy” bans, even though they also oppose “conversion therapy”:

“In short, the conversion therapy laws, even if they pass constitutional muster in the courts, raise fundamental questions well beyond the conversion therapy context about the extent to which legislatures can, or will feel entitled to, regulate a doctor’s speech with a patient and otherwise intrude on doctor-patient relationships.”

Similarly, The Gazette editorial board wrote, “We would never seek to encourage or discourage “conversion therapy.” We don’t care about any person’s sexual orientation. We don’t care about the old debate over sexual orientation as a choice or genetic condition. We only care about a government trying to steer personal decisions by unlawfully muting options promoted with free speech in the free market.”

Not only are these bans attacks on free speech, but they are not based on an honest assessment of the research regarding “conversion therapy.” Last year, the Family Research Council (FRC) pointed out that the American Psychological Association’s (APA) research does not actually lead to a conclusive argument in favor of counseling bans.

For example, FRC points out,“Opposition to SOCE is based in part on the belief that people are born gay, probably as a result of a “gay gene” or some other biological factor present at birth. However, the APA admits that “there is no consensus among scientists” about what causes homosexuality, and that “nurture” may play a role.”

Dr. Nicholas Cummings, who served as president of the APA from 1979-1980 made the same point in USA Today in 2013, saying, “…contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as "unethical" violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients' goals for their own treatment.” He went on to say, “…accusing professionals from across the country who provide treatment for fully informed persons seeking to change their sexual orientation of perpetrating a fraud serves only to stigmatize the professional and shame the patient.”

FRC also pointed out that, “Opposition to SOCE [Sex Orientation Change Efforts] is based on the claim that it is always (or at least usually) harmful to clients. However, the APA admits that there is no “valid causal evidence” that SOCE is harmful.”

And, “The APA acknowledges that licensed mental health providers (LMHP) should “respect a person’s (client’s) right to self-determination,” allow the client to choose her or his own goals, and “be sensitive to the client’s . . . religion.” However, therapy bans directly violate this core ethical principle of client self-determination.”

Counseling bans such as the one that Superior just passed are presented as necessary for preventing harm, but this approach is simply dishonest. The APA acknowledges that there is not valid causal evidence that counseling efforts to deal with unwanted same-sex attraction is harmful. Banning such counseling prevents clients from choosing their own goals and targets counselors who would help them pursue those goals. Although counseling bans are treated as if they are a win for everyone, the reality is that they limit freedom of speech and only protect the LGBT movement’s agenda.