Two judges, appointed by President Donald Trump, have struck down laws in Florida that banned ‘conversion therapy’ on children.
The laws, in the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County, banned therapists from trying to ‘cure’ people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
But therapists Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton argued the laws violated their rights to free speech.
The therapists said their clients usually had ‘sincerely held religious beliefs conflicting with homosexuality’. Therefore they wanted counseling so their identities and behavior matched those beliefs.
Now the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the therapists in a two-to-one decision. It effectively strikes down other local laws in Florida banning the ‘therapies’.
The two judges in the majority in the decision are both Trump appointees.
Circuit Judge Britt Grant said the First Amendment ‘does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender’. He was joined by Judge Barbara Lagoa.
Meanwhile NBC News reported that Circuit Judge Beverly Martin, appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, was the dissenting voice in the judgment.
She argued there is a compelling interest in protecting children from a ‘harmful therapeutic practice’.
That is a view shared by all the leading medical, psychological and psychiatric organizations in the world, including the American Psychiatric Association.
They agree that ‘conversion therapy’ doesn’t work and can cause lasting damage.
And now both Boca Raton’s lawyer Jamie Cole and Palm Beach County’s lawyer Helene Hvizd may appeal. In separate statements they said Judge Martin’s dissent was ‘well-reasoned’ and that they were considering their legal options.
Meanwhile Mat Staver, a lawyer for the therapists, said the decision was the first of its kind by a federal appeals court, and ‘a huge victory’.
At the moment 20 US states and Washington DC ban ‘conversion therapy’. But it remains widespread. The ‘therapists’ are often carried out religious groups rather than independent professionals.
However, President-Elect Joe Biden hopes to secure a nationwide ban during his presidency.