New York City to repeal ban on gay 'conversion therapy' amid legal battle

Manhattan, New York City, New York.
Manhattan, New York City, New York. | Getty/Stock photo

The New York city council is planning to repeal a two-year-old ban on “gay conversion therapy” to avoid a costly uphill legal fight.

The New York Times reports that the city’s openly gay Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced a bill on Thursday to repeal a measure passed in 2017 banning the sale of “services intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

With a conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court makeup, Johnson doesn’t seem to want the law to be tested in the legal system. He vowed that the council would act quickly to repeal the law. 

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“Obviously I didn’t want to repeal this,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “I don’t want to be someone who is giving in to these right-wing groups. But the Supreme Court has become conservative; the Second Circuit, which oversees New York, has become more conservative.”

The city's ban is being challenged by the conservative religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has won nine Supreme Court cases in the last seven years. 

ADF’s lawsuit was filed in January on behalf of Dr. David Schwartz, a licensed psychotherapist and an adherent to the Lubavitcher Orthodox Jewish Community in Brooklyn.

Supporters of sexual orientation change efforts contend that laws banning conversion therapy will make it harder for individuals struggling with same-sex attraction to seek help if they desire to live their life in accordance with a biblical lifestyle. 

They also say that conversion therapy bans essentially censor discussions between psychologists and their patients. 

Some LGBT advocates fear that if the measure is challenged in court and struck down, it could damage nationwide attempts to ban efforts to change sexual orientation. 

The news of the city council’s desire to repeal the ban was praised by both LGBT advocates and Christian conservatives, although for different reasons. 

“We support the City Council's decision to pull back on a statute that could undermine efforts nationally to end conversion therapy, especially considering that the legal climate is less favorable towards the LGBTQ community at the federal level,” New York City’s LGBT resource organization, The Center, wrote in a tweet.

Mat Staver, the founder of the Christian conservative legal nonprofit  Liberty Counsel, called the repealing of the city’s ban a “step in the right direction.”

“It’s only a matter of time, however, before one of these counseling bans is struck down before the Supreme Court,” Staver asserted. 

“The law is a gross intrusion into the fundamental rights of counselors and clients. Every person should have access to the counselor of his or her choice. No government has the authority to prohibit a form of counseling simply because it does not like the religious or moral beliefs of a particular counselor or client.”

Although the city is repealing its ban, the state of New York, as well as 17 other states, have also banned conversion therapy. 

Earlier this year, an ex-gay counselor filed a lawsuit against the conversion therapy ban enacted by the state of Maryland, claiming that the law violated his free speech and religious freedom rights. 

“SB 1028 prohibits counseling to minors seeking to eliminate, reduce, or resolve unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity by licensed professionals, which is causing immediate and irreparable harm to Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s clients,” that lawsuit states.

“By denying minors the opportunity to pursue a particular course of action that can most effectively help them address the conflicts between their sincerely held religious beliefs and goals to eliminate, reduce, or resolve unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity, SB 1028 is causing those minors confusion and anxiety over same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, and identity and infringing on their free speech and religious liberty rights.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision against a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to inform women about their access to state-assisted abortions, that governments can fail to “preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas” when it polices the content of professional speech. 

Earlier this year, however, a federal court judge in Florida recommended a temporary injunction against a gay conversion therapy ban enacted in Tampa bay, siding with two marriage and family therapists.

In that case, the judge cited the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in favor of the pro-life pregnancy centers. 

In the past, however, federal appeals courts have ruled in favor of conversion therapy bans in California and New Jersey. Under different makeups in past years, the Supreme Court has declined to review cases favoring conversion therapy bans. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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