Bill to ban LGBTQ teen conversion therapy being re-worked

CHARLESTON — Legislation that would ban the controversial practice of using therapy to change the sexual orientation of children was pulled while a committee looks at improving the bill.

Senate Bill 359 was introduced by Senate Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Michael Maroney, R-Marshall, and had a bipartisan list of co-sponsors. But Maroney pulled the bill from the committee agenda Tuesday.

Also known as the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, the bill would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children under the age of 18 from conversion therapy, a practice used to attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation.

Maroney said the bill would be back on a future committee agenda after Senate staff attorneys make some improvements to the bill. Some issues with the bill include how it affects out-of-state doctors and the relationships between pastors and priests and members of their churches.

“I pulled it because there are definitely some holes in the bill,” Maroney said. “Some definitions need tightened up.”

According to Maroney, conversion therapy has been rejected by several health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Such therapy, Maroney said, can cause depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, and homelessness among young people.

“Not only do they say they oppose conversion therapy, but they say it will create harm to that child potentially,” Maroney said. “No one is doing it right now based on their own association guidelines. It’s considered unethical. But there is nothing to prevent someone from coming in and trying to do this.”

The state’s lack of conversion therapy restrictions was one of eight issues that landed West Virginia on the radar of the Human Rights Campaign. Other issues include the state’s lack of housing and employment non-discrimination, and anti-bullying laws that do not include sexual orientation as a category. The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, however, has stated that such a ban on conversion therapy would put Christian and Jewish therapists out of business.

For Maroney, a practicing physician, the only issue that matters is the health of West Virginians. With even the American Association of Christian Counselors eliminating the promotion of conversion therapy in 2014, Maroney said it’s time to put limits on such therapy.

“There are some organizations that are adamantly opposed to this bill,” Maroney said. “With that being said, I’m the chair of the Senate health committee and I take that job seriously.”