Reparative Therapy, sometimes called Conversion Therapy or "Pray away the Gay" is a form of counseling which is sought by some people in order to change a perceived sexual orientation. While there is no evidence that it works, I was surprised to learn that the State Assembly of California has passed a bill SB1172 that criminalizes it.

What is surprising to me is that regardless of the effectiveness of the therapy, this would seem to be exactly the same "doctor-patient privacy" that is expected during an abortion. In both cases, this would seem to be a private medical procedure that is being barred. In both cases, there are studies which show both benefits and harm to the patients.

The question I have (and this is a serious question), what is the fundamental difference that allows California to ban one medical procedure but not another?

  • <<Removed Comments since they've degraded>> Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 16:43

3 Answers 3


The state can regulate and even ban any medical procedure, at least in California. For example, a proposed San Francisco ballot that would ban circumcision in San Francisco was struck down by the courts because medical procedures are regulated by the state.

However, California did not ban gay conversion therapy. If you look at the article to which you linked, you will find that California only banned the use of gay conversion therapy on minors. We know that the government can limit parental autonomy if it's being used abusively, and because this therapy does not work, and may increase rates of suicide, we can reasonably consider forcing a child to attend conversion therapy abusive.

  • @AffableGeek, you might I wouldn't put too much weight on the "raparative therapy" increases suicide (Avi, does your linked "proper responses to sexual orientation" actually state that in any way?). For one, the overblown gay teens have +3x the suicide rate that is often reported is complete bunk.
    – user1873
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 14:28
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    @user1873 the link you provided links to another site for information, and that other site's neutrality is highly questionable. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_among_LGBT_youth is far less politically/ religiously motivated, IMHO. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 14:37
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    It's the APA, Jeremy. They're a pretty reputable organization. And yeah user1873, do a ctrl-F for "suicid".
    – Publius
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 23:34
  • Yea, I'm OK citing the APA for psychological research. That's kinda of their thing.
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 3:37
  • @JeremyHolovacs, LiveScience is questionable? What estimate are you using from Wikipedia? The one that says, "It is impossible to know the exact suicide rate of LGBT youth because sexuality and gender minorities are often hidden and even unknown, particularly in this age group." or the one that makes up statistics out of thin air?
    – user1873
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 6:28

A state reserves the right to ban any practice, whether medical or not, where the consensus (or at least the majority) determines the potential harm outweighs the potential good. In this respect, there are strict laws around testing experimental drugs and procedures, even if a particular drug or procedure may in fact save a person's life. The right to privacy does not enter into the picture at all.

In addition, as I noted above, as homosexuality is not recognized as a disease or injury by any state (that I am aware of), it is therefore impossible to call a procedure designed to "fix" it a valid medical procedure. Instead it belongs in the same category as homeopathic medicines, faith healing, and most dietary supplements where measurable results are not guaranteed, and are often not even expected.

  • 1
    Good point, but then why are those items you mentioned in your last sentence not banned too?
    – TTT
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 4:46
  • @Jeremy Holovacs: you should edit your answer to reflect that California did not ban the procedure, but just isn't allowing parents to use it on minors.
    – Publius
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 9:08
  • @Avi, I think my answer is generic enough to address the question without regard to the specific example provided. I have no knowledge of the law and cannot speak knowledgeably about it one way or another... but the actual question asked, "what is the fundamental difference that allows California to ban one medical procedure but not another?" can be definitively answered in absentia. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:58
  • @TTT, as mentioned in the first paragraph, this is based on the consensus of the legislative body... the current opinion seems to be that homeopathic medicines, faith healing, and most dietary supplements, while not necessarily helpful, are at least not harmful, while the procedure discussed by OP has been harshly criticized as potentially harmful by multiple medical and psychological bodies. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 14:01

The reason is because Gay-to-straight therapy is very unpopular. There are many many people who absolutely HATE the practice with a passion. Telling people that homosexuality is a disease/condition that can be cured angers a great deal of people.

In a liberal state like California. It's more unpopular than abortion is, the legislature felt the pressure from people who wanted it banned, so they banned it.

It's the same reason why things like medicinal marihuana is banned by the federal government.

There's really not much more to it than that.

  • 1
    While I cannot disagree that strong emotions are tied to this, I think banning the procedure stems from a desire to protect, rather than restrict. Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 23:57
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    @JNK - "normal" pregnancy doesn't require treatment (aside from folic acid) up until birth. Therefore comparing pregnancy with being sick is wrong.
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 18:19
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    @DVK he's not comparing pregnancy with being sick. He's equating abortion with elective plastic surgery Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 18:19
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    @jnk what is "medicine" Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 19:09
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    I would think that psychiatric help would be considered a "medical treatment," and am fairly certain that those treatments are protected by HIPPA laws. I wonder why conversion therapy wouldn't be considered psychiatric help.
    – user1873
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 6:14

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