Supreme Court denies conservative challenge to California ban on conversion therapy

Davis resident and parent, Nada Nakahara, left, stands in unity with others in support of gender-identity topics at the Yolo is for Everyone event Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, after recent bomb threats made at Davis-area schools and the city’s main library containing anti-LGBTQ language.

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would not hear a challenge to bans on conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids, keeping intact laws in California, Washington, and 20 other states.

The challenge came from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian conservative legal advocacy group which supports abortion bans and restrictions on LGBTQ rights. The ADF is representing Brian Tingley, a Washington therapist who challenged his state’s conversion therapy ban.

Lawyers for the ADF argued that prohibiting therapists like Tingley from using conversion therapy on children is a First Amendment violation. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both dissented the decision, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he voted to hear the case.

In Washington, “licensed counselors can speak with minors about gender dysphoria, but only if they convey the state-approved message of encouraging minors to explore their gender identities. Expressing any other message is forbidden—even if the counselor’s clients ask for help to accept their biological sex,” wrote Thomas.

“That is viewpoint-based and content-based discrimination in its purest form. As a result, (the law) is presumptively unconstitutional, and the state must show that it can survive strict scrutiny before enforcing it.”

Absent in any dissent was Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has ties to the ADF.

She spoke at the ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship Program five times in the span of her law career, but at her confirmation hearing in 2020, she denied knowing that the ADF had such staunch anti-LGBTQ goals.

California became the first state in the country to ban the practice of conversion therapy (also sometimes called “reparative therapy”) in 2012. Prominent medical associations and LGBTQ support groups have long denounced the practice.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, for example, has found no evidence to support it.

“Such ‘conversion therapies’ (or other interventions imposed with the intent of promoting a particular sexual orientation and/or gender as a preferred outcome) lack scientific credibility and clinical utility,” members wrote. “Additionally, there is evidence that such interventions are harmful.”

Recent studies show that members of the LGBTQ community who undergo conversion therapy are more likely to attempt suicide, and suffer from substance use disorders.