Gay rights were abridged in California earlier this week when the California Senate passed a bill which would make it a crime for a mental health professional to conduct sexual orientation change efforts with a consensual minor. If this bill is signed into law, it will mean that California teenagers with gender identity issues will be prohibited from seeking reparative counseling from credentialed psychologists – even if both they and their parents want this therapy.

SB 1172 as it was originally written criminalized sexual orientation change efforts “by means of therapeutic deception,” which was defined as “a representation by a psychotherapist that sexual orientation change efforts … can or will reduce [homosexual conduct or desire]. While the version of the bill that was finally passed does not include any of these flowery explanations and merely consists of the ban itself, the additional comments from the earlier version of the bill reveal the mindset of its author.

The person who sat down to write this bill clearly did so in the confidence that a psychology which allows for sexual orientation change (practicing homosexuals choosing to become ex-gays) is flawed and harmful to patients. Are they right? The ex-gay community certainly doesn’t think so! On the contrary, they are grateful for the counselors and mental health practitioners that helped them kick a lifestyle they abhorred.

Unbeknownst to many, the American Psychological Association, an organization very supportive of homosexuality, admits that there is no scientific consensus concerning the root factors which cause people to identify as homosexual. They state on their site:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”

Another fascinating study which was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Wheaton College, recently explored the experiences of homosexuals who participated in sexual orientation change counseling. The authors of the study state:

“Evidence emerged from the study suggesting that change of homosexual orientation appears possible for some, and that psychological distress did not increase on average as a result of the involvement in the change process.”

Despite this evidence, many remain unmoved and like the author of this bill, insist that therapy which considers same-sex attraction as treatable or alterable is quack-science. And that’s okay. That’s one of their inalienable rights. What these doubters do not have a right to do, however, is to impose their views on others through the medium of government by prohibiting the practice of counseling they deem inappropriate.  What these doubters do not have a right to do is to ban parents from choosing the therapist that they deem best for their children. What they do not have a right to do is to prohibit teens from getting the help they want. What they do not have a right to do is to dictate what mental health practices are best for us and to come down on one side of the scientific establishment to the exclusion of the other.

Mental health practice differs significantly from most medical practice by its very definition. While the term “mental health” describes a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder, most other forms of medical practice deal with physical well-being. With modern technology and years of scientific data and experimentation to draw from, it’s relatively easy in our society to determine whether or not a person is physically healthy and how to make them more so. Unfortunately, it’s often not as easy to determine whether or not a person is mentally healthy, simple due to the fact that there are differing opinions concerning what it means to be in a state of so-called psychological well-being.

Persons from different cultures who adhere to different belief systems are sure to clash on matters of mental health. Some may assert that the seemingly primitive ideologies of others render them mentally unstable and unhealthy. What some perceive as healthy responses to conflict may be perceived by others to be entirely inappropriate given the circumstances. In conclusion, it is impossible to determine what psychological well-being looks like without making a value-based judgment.

We don’t all share the same values in America. We can’t allow the government to stifle freedom of expression by defining mental health for us. And if our legislators are blocking young people’s access to a reparative therapy they feel may restore them to a state of psychological well-being, perhaps these legislators are infringing on the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Bryana Johnson | @HighTideJournal