Hawaii Bans Gay Conversion Therapy For Minors, Becomes 12th State To Ban Controversial Practice

Hawaii on Friday banned so-called "gay conversion therapy" for children under 18, becoming the 12th state to ban the controversial practice that some say is protected religious expression, Hawaii News Now is reporting.

The Aloha State follows California, Oregon, and several other states in banning the practice, at least for minors. The language in Hawaii's bill, reports KHON-TV (Honolulu), is rather broad and far-reaching.

"[The Bill] Prohibits teachers and persons who are licensed to provide professional counseling from engaging in or advertising sexual orientation change efforts on students and persons under eighteen years of age."
Representative Della Au Belatti, who helped introduce the bill back in January, said that Hawaii's LGBTQ youth need to know that their government has their back.
"We need to reassure our transgendered, homosexual youth that they are not being rejected by society."
Just how widespread gay conversion therapy was before the ban was passed, however, is unclear. KHON-TV reached out to public and private schools to see if any teens had complained to their counselors about being forced to undergo the treatment, and found that there had been no complaints. Similarly, Monoiki Ah Neeban, of Life Foundation, a non-profit that works with gay, lesbian, and transgender youth, denied hearing any complaints as well.

Nevertheless, he feels like the bill is the right thing.

"It would affect anybody to be told, 'You're wrong. You're not like the others. You're different,' in a negative. The forced perception on the child is you're wrong. It's going to be damaging."
What Is Gay Conversion Therapy, Anyway?

The practice can take many forms, from something as mundane as a counselor trying to steer a client away from their sexual attraction through conversation, to so-called "pray the gay away camps," to even electroshock treatment, as one survivor reported to Huffington Post in 2017.

Almost every major medical, psychiatric, and child advocacy organization contacted by Human Rights Campaign rejects the practice, if for no other reason than it does more harm than good (to say nothing of the apparent cruelty of some forms of the treatment).

The Religious Freedom Angle

Regardless of the beliefs of the medical community on the matter, to some, the practice is a form of religious expression that should be protected by the First Amendment. For example, in California, which is currently debating classifying gay conversion therapy as a "fraudulent business practice," and thus putting its practitioners at risk of fines, Assemblyman Matthew Harper made clear his belief that the First Amendment protects the practice, according to The Hill.

"This is a bill that would be overturned by a higher court on the grounds of the First Amendment."
Similarly, Christian group The American Family Association claims that "reparative therapy," as it's called by its practitioners, is at once protected religious expression, as well as demonstrably successful.
"[The Left] wants] to criminalize any effort to effect a change in sexual orientation."
Hawaii joins New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, and the District of Columbia in banning gay conversion therapy.