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Impact of green light for California’s conversion-therapy ban will likely be felt in Minnesota

A bill that would have prohibited health-care professionals from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of anyone under 18 failed in the 2014 Legislature.

Christian counseling clinics owned by Marcus Bachmann, left, the husband of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, were the subject of media accounts on its reported use there.
REUTERS

Buried by Monday’s other headlines, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a California ban on so-called conversion therapy for gay and lesbian minors. Without comment, the jurists declined to hear the appeal of a federal appeals court decision that called the “pray away the gay” counseling extreme and dangerous.

The impact doubtless will be felt in Minnesota, where a similar measure failed in the 2014 Legislature. The bill, authored by Minneapolis DFL Reps. Karen Clark and Susan Allen, would have prohibited health-care professionals from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of anyone under 18.

Such counseling is typically practiced by religious fundamentalists. Christian counseling clinics owned by Marcus Bachmann, the husband of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, were the subject of media accounts on its reported use there. During the congresswoman’s presidential bid, the clinics came under fire for accepting state and federal payments.

Lesser-known is the role reparative therapy played in the controversy over the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s “neutrality” policy, which barred teachers and other district employees from talking supportively to LGBT youth. Under threat of both a major lawsuit and a federal investigation, two years ago the school board there agreed to change the policy.

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Religious conservatives have long pressed the district to distribute information to students about conversion therapy. If Anoka-Hennepin had LGBT materials in libraries and counselors’ offices, they argued, the district should be making students aware of their belief that sexual orientation is a choice.

One of a dozen district students to commit suicide during a two-year period, Justin Aaberg came from a family and network of friends who supported his homosexuality. Among the events in the run-up to his suicide was the “Day of Truth,” when students showed up to school wearing T-shirts condemning gay and lesbian youth.

The event was sponsored by Exodus International, which preached about converting gay youth at area churches. In addition to being branded a sinner, Aaberg received hate messages via Facebook from students he didn’t know.

On Monday the High Court let stand Pickup v. Brown, a unanimous decision by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that California’s ban on conversion therapy is constitutional. The court’s refusal to hear the case means the ban may now be implemented. 

The proposed Minnesota ban is just one of a number of measures raised during recent legislative sessions that died amid arguments that it violated the right to religious freedom. An anti-bullying measure did pass, after failing for numerous consecutive years.