March 6, 2019

Bill would ban gay conversion therapy for minors

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Supporters of a sexual orientation therapy ban packed a meeting room at the State House Tuesday.

Longtime supporters of legislation that would make Massachusetts the 16th state to ban sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors are hoping this year is finally the year it becomes law.

The proposed ban on state-licensed health care providers offering conversion therapy for minors nearly became law last summer, clearing both the House and Senate on the final day of formal sessions in July.

Democratic legislative leaders failed, however, to deliver the bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, and are now restarting their effort to advance the controversial measure. It began Tuesday with a near unanimous vote by the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities to recommend two bills.

Rep. Kay Khan, who has refiled the legislation for the fourth time, said she's optimistic that her bill, which enjoys bipartisan support from a majority of the Legislature, could be on the fast track.

"That's my hope. Better to get it over sooner rather than later, in my opinion, because just having it out there for a long period of time, there are a lot of naysayers out there," Khan said after chairing the hearing on her own bill.

Khan's bill was the subject of a crowded, emotional hearing in front the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities where parents, pastors, lawmakers and members of the LGBTQ community spent hours making their case for and against the bills.

The committee action this early in the session signals that Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate could be hoping to capitalize quickly on broad support for the bill. Khan's bill has 116 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, representing more than half of all elected lawmakers.

"Conversion therapy is based on the concept that people's sexual orientation or gender identity can be fixed. Well, I say there's nothing to fix," said Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler.

Fifteen states have already banned licensed conversation therapy, and the bill would only apply to therapy for minors under the age of 18. It has an exemption for religious institutions.

"As an out man I'm embarrassed that over a dozen states have banned conversation therapy and we haven't done so in Massachusetts," said Sen. Julian Cyr, a Cape Cod Democrat and one of several openly gay members of the Legislature.

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