A young Republican lawmaker is proposing legislation in New Hampshire to ban therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors, a move that is sure to cause friction within the GOP when lawmakers reconvene in January.
State Rep. Eric Schleien, 27, said he doesn't think it's possible to change someone's sexual orientation through so-called conversion therapy, and research has led him to believe trying to do so can be dangerous. But some fellow Republican lawmakers say the effort could undermine religious liberty and parental rights.
"I think our culture grows stronger when we're able to accept different people's lifestyles and treat people with honor and respect. I don't think that's that radical," Schleien said. "You can't convert people's sexuality. I think most people get that."
If Schleien's bill passes, New Hampshire would become the fifth state to ban the practice. The American Psychological Association and other major health organizations have discredited its efficacy, but some Republican lawmakers think the practice is appropriate.
"There's no way anyone's going to convince me that it's proper or good to ban therapy for children, or a person of any age, that thinks that they are or want to be a gender other than what they biologically are," Rep. David Bates, 52, said.
Schleien said he expects opposition will center on parental rights or religious liberty. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide earlier this year ignited a new fight over religious liberty, with some people arguing that being forced to recognize gay marriage violates religious freedom.
"We always see backlash when a minority group starts to gain rights," said Samantha Ames of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is driving a nonpartisan campaign to ban the therapy nationwide. "Unfortunately, this particular backlash is falling on our youth."
Research shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers who go through the therapy are at higher risk of suicide, substance abuse and depression. The White House announced support for state bans earlier this year.
California became the first state to ban conversion therapy for minors in 2012, with Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Oregon and Illinois following suit. In Illinois and New Jersey, Republican governors signed the legislation.
A study by the Family Acceptance Project found that roughly one-third of people who identify as LGBT went through some type of conversion therapy effort as an adolescent, Ames said. It's harder to tell how many people offer conversion therapy, and Schleien doesn't know how frequently it is practiced in New Hampshire.
The APA says conversion therapy can employ methods such as inducing nausea while showing homoerotic images, providing electric shocks and using hypnosis.
Under Schleien's bill, any licensed professional counselor providing conversion therapy to minors would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by the licensing authority. The bill would also make it easier for authorities to charge people who practice conversion therapy with fraud. A group of men successfully sued a nonprofit in New Jersey for practicing conversion therapy under the state's consumer fraud laws.
Republican state Rep. Josh Moore, 26, worries the bill could make churches that preach against homosexuality subject to attacks or legal jeopardy. He also believes parents should have the right to bring their child to church in an effort to discourage homosexuality.
"What are we leading people into when we're not attempting to help them out and show them purpose in life?" Moore said.
Schleien said the bill doesn't aim to clamp down on freedom of speech or religion. As for parental rights, he said sometimes there needs to be a limit.
"Just because you're under 18 doesn't mean that someone owns you to the point they can harm you," he said.