CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A controversial bill to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth from conversion therapy has been pulled was pulled from the Legislative agenda Tuesday.
Senate Bill 359, that proposed a ban on conversion therapy, also known as sexual orientation change efforts or reparative therapy, is off the agenda… for now.
State Senator Michael Maroney (R-Marshall) who is a sponsor of the bill, the Chair of the Senate Health Committee and an M.D. radiologist, said on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ with Hoppy Kercheval there is agreement among medical professionals that the therapy does not work and is harmful to the individual.
“I am usually with these (religious) groups,” he said. “Those are my personal makeup and morals generally align with theirs. There is a body of scientific research that is indisputable that conversion therapy not only does not work but it actually is harmful to the individual. It is psychologically harmful to the individual trying to convert them from their own sexual orientations they are experiencing.”
Alan Whitt with the Family Policy Council, an organization that opposes this bill, also appeared on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and said that there is no such thing as “conversion therapy.”
“The premise, we completely reject that there is such a thing as a straight kid,” he said. “It doesn’t exist, science has not proven there is a straight kid or there is a gay kid. There is no scientific proof that proves any of that. The bill is designed to keep you from converting from one to another but it is an impossibility to begin with.”
He went on to add that the harm to the individual is done through the conversation.
“The conversation that we are having right now is harmful to a lot of people because they are thinking this is something that needs to be addressed when it does not. There has been no credible complaint to a formal governing body anywhere in America since 1978 on this topic, not one.
“It is part of the LGBT activist goals to normalize the fact that you could have some males who really are trapped in a female’s body or you could have a five-year-old who is acting and behaving as a drag queen that, that is really his true self. The design is to normalize this conversation and I am sorry I am even having to have it. There is no need for this bill.”
Maroney said the bill, the Creating Youth Mental Health Protection Act, was dropped off the agenda to iron out some details and had nothing to do with politics. He added that the state Senate wanted to look at other bills first.
“The conversion therapy is not really in practice so the bill is not a huge priority. It’s not really like we are trying to stop something that is occurring. It is just an extra layer of safeguard.”
Whitt believed in other reasons for the bill being pulled and was disappointed after his organization endorsed Maroney.
“This wasn’t pulled because of technical details with the bill,” he said. “There was an open revolt at 11 o’ clock last night (Monday) when the socially conservative senators in the caucus found out about this. The same thing happened last year, they put it on the agenda, a revolt happened and it was pulled off. This is activism and we are very disappointed in the senator for bringing it forward.
“Dr. Maroney is a stand-up guy but he and I had a personal conversation for an hour about this very this thing three years ago while he was running for state Senate. I said ‘in order to get our endorsement you can’t ever have anything to do with this type of bill.’ He said ‘I want nothing to do with that, absolutely not.’ Here we are and he is the sponsor.”
Maroney said this is a tough bill that goes against some of the constituents in his district that covers Calhoun, Doddridge, Ritchie, Tyler, Wetzel counties and parts of Gilmer, Marion, Marshall, and Monongalia counties. He believed that the bill is what is best for the overall health of West Virginians.
“My job on the committee is to protect the health of West Virginians,” he said. “It’s tough to go if the majority of your constituents feel one way and you feel another way, you’re supposed to represent your constituents, not yourself. But as the chair of a committee, that committee’s job is looking out for the health of West Virginians. That broadens the district a bit, as the chair of a committee on health-related issues. I think it would be not doing my duty if we did not at least entertain this.
“Just by dropping the bill, even though it needs some work, it is starting a conversation. It’s not a priority of mine, it’s not even Top 10 on my priority list. When brought to your attention saying ‘yeah that makes sense’ and ‘we should have a safeguard in place to protect kids,’ that is why it was dropped.”
Inside the bill, it states that conversion therapy has been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization including American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescence Psychiatry.
Whitt said the ban on conversion therapy is the number one most despised bill across America for the Family Policy Council.
“This is all talk therapy, this is psychology, this is in some cases psychiatrists,” he said. “It would impact interns and social workers and those health care providers that deal with talk therapy all the way up to the age of 17.
“We are going to make sure that the public understands this is going to take away the rights of a patient, rights of a patient’s parents, it would take away first amendment rights of religious expression of licensed therapists in this state. There is a number of problems.”
Whitt expanded on his thoughts about first amendment rights of religious expression when it comes to faith based licensed professionals.
“A faith based organization exists for one reason,” he said. “That is to live out their faith in their workplace while helping people. If someone comes to them and says ‘I am a biological male but I want to live as a female.’ Well the licensed professional has the first amendment right of religious expression to say ‘I can direct you to someone else that would counsel in this area but I don’t counsel people towards an area that I believe is harmful.’”
He added that the bill is written that says a licensed professional can’t refer someone to out of state who might be a faith-based counselor that would engage in making heteronormative statements towards a patient.
Maroney said the bill might be put back on the agenda after the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted, but believed Senate leadership thought the bill was too controversial to bring up right now and didn’t want a distraction to larger priorities. He said the bill would be good legislation if it was fine-tuned and said while the scientific, doctor, physician parts are clear, the religious part of the bill remains cloudy.
Whitt said Maroney will automatically get a primary challenger next election because he was on the pro-side of this legislation.