Earlier this year, a homosexual California legislator produced a bill to halt any counseling efforts to help gays to not gay, getting a fierce reaction from local Christians as to what the real effects of this bill might be.
I reported on this in April in a blog post asking why so few media were covering it.
The bill was killed at the last minute on Aug. 31. The Los Angeles Times had the best wrap-up of the behind-the-scenes machinations. This is a very complex issue, so it's important to pay attention to which points of view make it into the story and which ones do not.
The author of a high-profile measure to curb paid “conversion therapy,” which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation, said he is shelving his bill Friday in hopes of finding consensus with religious communities that vigorously opposed the proposal.
The bill by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), which would have designated paid “conversion therapy” services as a fraudulent business practice under the state’s consumer protection law, easily cleared prior legislative hurdles thanks to large Democratic majorities in both chambers, as well as a handful of Republican votes.
This is a very unusual piece of legislation; in effect, a bill eliminating what it believed to be consumer fraud involved in conversion therapy literature.
But after religious groups assailed the proposal, calling it a threat to their right to practice their faith, Low went on a listening tour to meet with clergy across the state. Low ultimately decided to pull Assembly Bill 2943 before final approval in the Assembly, he said.
“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”
This story is a much bigger deal it appears. This law was in the can, ready to be passed. But Low pulled defeat from the jaws of victory (at least in the eyes of those backing the bill) by realizing the evangelical Christian opponents might be onto something in terms of their First Amendment rights.
Low’s measure would have expanded that ban by designating the sale of services to change someone’s sexual orientation a “deceptive business practice,” opening counselors and others who perform them to lawsuits.
The bill was staunchly opposed by practitioners and adherents of “conversion therapy,” who argued it deprived adults of the choice to pursue such a practice. Others said the measure infringed on religious practices and could even be used to ban the Bible or other printed materials. The bill was amended to clarify that only services, not goods, would be subject to the law.
Still, faith leaders considered the bill’s language to be overly broad, sparking fears that pastors or church counselors could be subject to lawsuits if they ministered to people grappling with their sexuality.
“If I pray with this person, is that going to come back on this church?” said Kevin Mannoia, chaplain at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college in Azusa.
The Times doesn’t mention that Mannoia is a former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a former Free Methodist bishop, so he’s a bigger fish than just a local college professor.
In the face of intense pushback, Low said he was inspired to meet with religious leaders, including Mannoia, to hear their concerns. He was struck by how many pastors told him they did not personally support “conversion therapy,” but had fears of the bill’s broader implications.
This is also huge. I’ve not heard any conservative religious leaders say they oppose conversion therapy. Of course, there are also fierce debates about how to define the term "conversion therapy." Some would even apply this term to a counselor who helps a gay Catholic strive to be celibate.
Christianity Today did a 33-minute podcast on this by interviewing Mannoia, who told some of the behind-the-scenes activity in getting Low to drop his bill. (The first few minutes are filled with chatter from the podcast makers that have nothing to do with the topic. Start listening at the 10-minute mark).
One thing Mannoia stressed was the work done getting Low to trust the evangelicals. Mannoia’s public declaration (in an editorial for the Orange County Register) disagreeing with conversion therapy impressed Low quite a bit.
“Maybe there’s something here,” Low said. “Could this be an opportunity for transformational change, in which you can get outside of the typical culture wars and come together and work with them to craft language that they might be able to support?”
Low acknowledged his decision was unconventional, when he almost certainly had the votes to win final approval.“
Some would say this is crazy,” he said. “Why would you pause when you don’t need to, when you’re in the driver’s seat?”
Although there are some holes in this story, it's better-written than this Sacramento Bee piece that did not even get the Mannoia connection.
Read the comments section if you wish to catch a whiff of the anger from Low’s followers (when they saw him give up a certain victory in the name of fairness to the other side). Low’s Facebook page is also filled with vitriol.
In terms of journalism basics, there’s another factor in here: Former homosexuals who say this therapy worked for them and that their point of view has been left out of the discussion. This LifeSiteNews piece expresses their hopes that Low will meet with them too.
Well, better late than never in terms of coverage of this bill. I’m curious about Low himself and whether he had any religious factors in his upbringing. I’m sure the information is out there, but I don’t see it here.
So please, fellow scribes in the Golden State, follow Low about as he talks with all shades of opinion on this topic in the next year. Talk with ex-gays, as politically incorrect as they may be. Search out anyone who does offer conversion therapy. It would be nice to see balanced reporting on this topic. So far, there's been very little.