Utah lawmakers want to revisit the state’s conversion therapy ban two years after it became the first Republican-led state in the U.S. to criminalize the harmful practice.
On August 18, members of the Utah State Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review and General Oversight Committee met to discuss whether the current conversion therapy ban is constitutional. In January 2020, Utah governor Gary Herbert implemented the ban through an administrative rule process after a bill outlawing attempts to “change” the sexual orientation or gender identity stalled in the legislature. The move was designed to bypass opposition from GOP lawmakers.
But last week, the committee reportedly questioned whether the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which regulates therapists and medical professionals and was tasked with implementing the rule, had the powers to do so.
The issue was raised by state Rep. Brady Brammer (R-Highland), who questioned whether banning conversion therapy in Utah was even necessary. “There are past medical procedures that have been disfavoured, and they drop out naturally,” he said in comments reported by Salt Lake Tribune, referring to other archaic medical procedures such as bloodletting. “Why do we treat this differently?”
State Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) joined Brammer in questioning the validity of the ban, arguing that medical professionals should be allowed to determine what treatments they offer to patients.
Utah lawmakers did not act on the handful of opinions offered last week, as the legislature’s regular session ended in March and they are currently unable to advance legislation. The issue is primed to become a major topic of conversation, however, when lawmakers reconvene in January of next year. No U.S. state has ever repealed a ban on conversion therapy after it was officially enacted.
LGBTQ2S+ advocates said they were “disappointed” to see elected representatives debate allowing a practice that has been likened to the United Nations as “torture.” Conversion therapy refers to a loose range of debunked medical treatments intended to stop patients from experiencing same-sex attractions or having a gender identity different than the sex they were assigned at birth, including aversion techniques, water torture and shock treatment.
“It was deeply alarming to hear Sen. Bramble propose nullifying the ban in its entirety,” Troy Williams, executive director of the stateside LGBTQ2S+ advocacy group Equality Utah, told the local news affiliate KSL. “We vehemently oppose any efforts to resuscitate this dangerous and ineffective treatment for Utah youth.”
Advocacy groups were joined in their opposition to the ban’s repeal by Spencer Cox, the current governor of Utah. In a conference held on August 18, Cox said he would attempt to appeal to legislators if they push to allow conversion therapy in the state.
“We know that historic practices around conversion therapy have been incredibly damaging and there’s plenty of research on that issue,” the Republican leader said.
Utah is one of 26 U.S. states that partially or fully bans conversion therapy, according to the Movement Advancement Project. States like California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada and New Mexico have all passed laws through their legislatures restricting attempts to change a minor’s orientation or gender identity, while governors in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin have all signed executive orders curtailing these practices.
The most recent U.S. governor to take action was Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, who signed an August 16 executive order banning the use of taxpayer funding for conversion therapy. In a statement, Wolf referred to the treatment as a “traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat.”
“This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them,” he said.
In Canada, conversion therapy attempted on both adults and children became a criminal offence punishable by a fine and imprisonment in December 2021. The legislation also stipulates sanctions for those who promote, advertise or profit off conversion therapy.