Will Republicans Kill Gay Conversion Therapy Ban Bill Again?

The photo above pictures Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who posted a suicide note on Tumblr in December 2014 shortly before stepping in front of a semi-truck that killed her.

Alcorn's last words include references to how her parents forced her to take part in so-called conversion therapy, which is supposed to transform homosexuals into heterosexuals.

Conversion therapy has been widely debunked as quackery of the most damaging sort. As pointed out in a WhiteHouse.gov petition that collected more than 120,000 signatures, "'Conversion therapies' have been documented to cause great harms and in this case, Leelah's death. Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child's gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths."

Inspired by the tragic stories of Alcorn and others, President Barack Obama issued an April 2015 statement in support of "efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors." But the same day he made this announcement, a Colorado Senate committee voted down a conversion therapy measure, House Bill 15-1175, on a party-line vote in which three Republicans opposed the measure.

Now, Representative Paul Rosenthal and Senator Pat Steadman, who sponsored the legislation last year, are trying again.

Their new offering, House Bill 16-1210, seen below, revisits the 2015 legislation's call for a ban, and after passing a House committee, it's expected to reach the House floor today.

But the same obstacles that resulted in the legislation's failure last year stand in its way again.

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The bill passed the committee by a 7-6 vote because Democrats are the majority party in the House. And signs are good for passage by the House committee of the whole for the same reason.

However, the GOP rules the Senate, where it would head next, and Republicans appear to be firmly opposed to putting an end to the practice of conversion therapy for children.

Why? Last year's events suggest that conversion therapy remains politically popular in some quarters.

As we reported, State Senator Ray Scott, one of the three "no" votes that sealed the 2015 bill's fate, Facebooked and linked to a story about the legislation's demise, prompting this note of praise from a constituent:

"Thank you, Ray! Apparently, Sen Pat Steadman and his friend, Rep Dan Thurlow (who voted for this tyrannical bill in committee), thinks it's okay for minors to engage in risky gay behaviors, but it's not okay for them or their parents to seek therapy for the behavior. It's one of the religious freedom issues. I appreciate your vote, Ray."

State Senator Owen Hill was even more verbose, spelling out his reasons for opposing the measure in an e-mail.

It reads:

This afternoon, the Senate State Affairs committee voted 3-2 to kill House Bill 1175, a bill that would have limited a minor’s access to conversion therapy.

I was one of the “no” votes on this bill as I am hesitant to use the heavy hand of government to take away the dignity of choice in cases where individuals want this therapy.

The rule of law is integral to an ordered society, and an important aspect of an ordered society is maintaining an individual’s ability to make choices about what is important to them.

Contrary voices may argue that it is the responsibility of government to mitigate the possibility of risk from our lives, from seatbelt laws to drinking age laws to micro beads in cosmetics. However, we must consider the other position, which says human dignity is upheld by allowing individuals to choose.

Additionally, I was unconvinced about the need for legislation on what can be an internally moderated practice, as we heard testimony from psychological organizations that are free to set their own ethical standards of practice.

While I am deeply saddened for the individuals who shared testimony of negative experiences with conversion therapy, my position as a legislator is first and foremost that individual liberties should be preserved, and it is not the place of the government to limit a therapy choice.

Thank you to everyone who has expressed their views on this, and other legislation this session. I appreciate the dialogue and hearing from so many people!

It's too soon to know if this rationale will be trotted out again during the 2016 session.

In a CBS4 piece, Rosenthal expresses optimism about the bill's chances for passing both chambers of the General Assembly given that conversion therapy bans for minors are now the law in four states and the District of Columbia.

But it'll take something akin to a legislative miracle for Colorado to join their number.

Here's the CBS4 report, followed by House Bill 16-1210.

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