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A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed that Washington state law protecting minors from conversion therapy is constitutional and can be enforced.

In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit wrote, “Based on all the evidence before it as well as the medical recommendations of expert organizations, the Washington Legislature acted rationally in modifying its regime. regulation for licensed health care providers to add “performing conversion therapy on a patient under the age of eighteen” to the list of medical malpractices”.

Washington banned licensed mental health professionals from subjecting minors to conversion therapy in 2018, as did more than 20 other states as well.

In a court case filed last year in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, a family therapist says a law banning the practice of conversion therapy techniques on minors signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018 is a violation of its first and fourteenth Amendment Rights.

Brian Tingley, who is represented by the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) based in Scottsdale, Arizona, identifies himself as a “licensed Christian marriage and family therapist” and alleges in court filings that the provided definition of ” conversion therapy” is “vague, content-biased, and biased against one perspective or point of view.”

Represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Equal Rights Washington intervened in the case to help the Washington Attorney General defend the law.

“We are thrilled with today’s decision, which ensures that Washington’s vital law can continue to be enforced and that LGBTQ children in Washington will not be subjected to these discredited practices, which have been dismissed as dangerous by all major medical organizations in this country,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR’s chief legal officer. Minter argued on behalf of intervener Equal Rights Washington in federal district court in Tacoma last year.

“Laws like Washington’s are essential to protect minors and parents from harm caused by unethical therapists who falsely claim they can prevent a child from being gay or transgender,” said Mathew Shurka, co -founder of Born Perfect, the NCLR campaign to end conversion. therapy. “As a survivor of more than five years of conversion therapy, I know firsthand how harmful these practices are to young people and their families. The medical community has rejected these practices because they are harmful, ineffective and unnecessary. Being LGBTQ is not a mental health issue. Trying to change such a fundamental aspect of a person’s identity is not only impossible, it is deeply dangerous and causes serious and lasting harm.

In September 2021, a federal district court rejected Tingley’s challenge and upheld Washington’s law. The court relied on Pickup against Brown, a 2014 decision in which the Ninth Circuit dismissed a similar challenge to a virtually identical California law. The court rejected Tingley’s argument that the U.S. Supreme Court had implicitly struck down Pick up in its 2018 decision in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates c. Becerrawhich struck down California laws regulating pregnancy clinics.

In today’s decision, the Ninth Circuit held that its earlier decision in Pick up is correct and that laws prohibiting conversion therapy regulate professional conduct, not speech. The court found that the Washington Legislature “acted rationally when it decided to protect the physical and psychological well-being of its minors by preventing state-approved health care providers from performing conversion therapy”. The Ninth Circuit noted that Washington lawmakers “also relied on the fact that”[e]very prominent medical and mental health organization” has uniformly dismissed aversive and non-aversive conversion therapy as dangerous and ineffective.

Two of the justices – Kim Wardlaw and Ronald Gould – also ruled that Washington’s law was valid for the additional reason that states have a long tradition of regulating health care providers to protect public health and safety.

Judge Mark Bennett declined to join this part of the opinion, saying it was unnecessary since the court’s earlier decision in Pick up was binding.

Since California enacted the first statewide law protecting minors from conversion therapy in 2011, 20 other states and more than 100 municipalities have enacted similar laws. These laws have been upheld by the Ninth and Third Circuits and by the federal district courts of Maryland, Florida and Illinois.

The only exception is a split decision in 2020 by a panel of three Eleventh Circuit judges in Otto vs. Boca Raton, which reversed a federal district court opinion upholding two Florida city ordinances that protected minors from conversion therapy. The Eleventh Circuit declined to rehear the case en banc earlier this year, despite strong dissenting opinions noting that the panel’s decision improperly ignored the district court’s factual findings and misapplied First Amendment law.

Kristan F. Talley