After more than two hours of debate that at times got emotional, the Maine House passed a measure on Wednesday that would prohibit state-licensed councilors from practicing conversion therapy on minors.
Conversion therapy involves treatments intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and critics say it does more harm than good.
Supporters of the ban say the controversial therapy is not supported by science, and that national professional counseling groups have deemed the practice to be unethical or worse.
“Currently, 16 other states have passed laws banning this unproven, unethical and, in my opinion, abusive practice,” says Democratic state Rep. Lori Gramlich of Old Orchard Beach, a social worker.
Some opposition to the proposed ban came on religious grounds. Other House members argued that the bill goes too far in limiting what professional counselors can say to minors who have come seeking help in understanding issues they may have around their sexuality.
“This bill holds no regard for violation of free speech, for crossing the line on separation of church and state, for intruding into the matters of privacy or transgressing the rights of parents as pertains to their own children,” says Republican Rep. Roger Reed of Carmel.
An attempt to kill the bill survived by a margin of 89-49, and an effort to amend it also failed. Some called for an amendment that would ban some specific therapies, such as shock treatments, but provide more latitude to therapists in how they treat their patients.
“I, like many others, do not want children subjected to any form or physical or mental abuse in regards to gender dysphoria. But this bill goes beyond that and invades the area of speech,” says Republican Rep. Greg Swallow of Houlton.
The debate included the personal coming out stories of several openly gay members of the House, who spoke about the need to ban the various types of conversion therapies that they say have caused severe mental health consequences, including suicide, in adults.
Similar legislation was approved during the last legislative session, but was vetoed by then Gov. Paul LePage. Gov. Janet Mills has expressed support for a ban on conversion therapy, but has not commented on this specific bill, which faces further votes in the Maine Senate and House.
Originally published May 8, 2019 at 5:55 p.m. ET.