A divided federal appeals court Friday struck down measures passed in Palm Beach County and the city of Boca Raton that blocked the controversial practice known as “conversion therapy,” saying the prohibitions violated the First Amendment.
A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, sided with marriage and family therapists Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, who challenged the constitutionality of the county and city ordinances.
The ordinances barred therapists from providing treatment or counseling that is designed to change minors’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Critics of such therapy say it harms minors who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
While acknowledging the controversy of the issue, the majority opinion said the ordinances violated the First Amendment rights of therapists who want to provide such treatment or counseling.
“This decision allows speech that many find concerning — even dangerous,” said the 27-page majority opinion, written by Judge Britt Grant and joined by Judge Barbara Lagoa. “But consider the alternative. If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the city council deemed that message harmful. And the same goes for gender transition — counseling supporting a client’s gender identification could be banned. It comes down to this: If the plaintiffs’ perspective is not allowed here, then the defendants’ perspective can be banned elsewhere. People have intense moral, religious, and spiritual views about these matters — on all sides. And that is exactly why the First Amendment does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender.”
But Judge Beverly Martin, in a 20-page dissent, wrote that the county and city “have validly identified a compelling government interest in protecting minors from a harmful medical practice.”
“The majority is correct to say this case implicates sensitive considerations about when and how government bodies may regulate speech. Instances in which a speech restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest are deservedly rare. But they do exist,” Martin wrote. “I believe the localities’ narrow regulation of a harmful medical practice affecting vulnerable minors falls within the narrow band of permissibility.”
Kevin Jennings, chief executive officer of Lambda Legal, an organization that focuses on civil-rights issues involving LGBTQ people, issued a statement saying the majority opinion is a “marked departure from precedent and an incredibly dangerous decision for our youth.”
“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing less than child abuse,” Jennings said. “It poses documented and proven critical health risks, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. Youth are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of parents who don’t know or don’t believe that the efforts are harmful and doomed to fail: When these efforts predictably fail to produce the expected result, many LGBTQ children are kicked out of their homes.”
The majority opinion overturned a lower-court decision and ordered that preliminary injunctions be entered against the ordinances. Grant and Lagoa, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, were appointed to the Atlanta-based appeals court by President Donald Trump. Martin was appointed by former President Barack Obama.
In the majority opinion, Grant wrote that the ordinances included an exception that permitted therapists to assist people undergoing gender transition. She said that no “such carveout exists for sexual orientation.”
“The ordinances thus codify a particular viewpoint — sexual orientation is immutable, but gender is not — and prohibit the therapists from advancing any other perspective when counseling clients,” Grant wrote. “That viewpoint may be widely shared in the communities that passed the ordinances, but widespread agreement is beside the point; the question is whether a speaker’s viewpoint determines his license to speak. Here, the answer is yes.”
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
JFC it’s nearly 2021. LGBTQ people are EFFING born that way. God. First amendment violation for the therapists? WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHTS OF MINORS? Huh? No straight person understands what conversion therapy is like. It’s not talking. It’s not anything fun. It’s tantamount to legal child abuse. It’s horrific. Leave people and their sexual orientation alone, yes even children. Have them talk to a non-conversion therapy therapist if you so desire but conversion therapy is god awful. It’s more damaging then just letting them grow into how god made them. Unless you’ve gone through it don’t even begin to tell me I’m overreacting or that I have no idea what I’m talking about because I do.
E Hoffa says
Thankfully we have a Judge who supports the 1st Amendment and does NOT listen to Mob Rule!
John DeWitt says
This is not an issue that should be decided by Cities or Counties. State or Federal would be more appropriate. Cities and Counties don’t even license the counselors they are attempting to regulate.
Concerned Citizen says
I am thankful every day that I grew up straight. And am still straight in my older years. For the very reason that it’s a legal mess to be other wise. And it shouldn’t be.
I could not imagine how rough it must be living a different way and enduring the bigotry and discremenation that has no place in our society today. Aren’t we supposed to be above all this? What happened to live and let live. Or better yet mind your own damn busniess.
I don’t give a damn who you want to be or who you think you are as long as it makes YOU happy. And I don’t give a damn who sleeps with whom. As long as everyone is of legal age and fully consenting.
Leave the LGBTQ community alone. Unless you’re protecting the rights they SHOULD ALREADY HAVE. Why not focus all that law passing and striking down busniess on other issues.
Trailer Bob says
Shouldn’t this all be at the discretion of the child and parent(s)?
Claws R Us says
I always wanted to be a Wolverine. I’m going thru Wolverine therapy now. I didn’t really know just how many humans wanted to change their species to be a Wolverine. I’m really worried about living underground thou. But I’ll get use to it. I’m having fur transplant in two weeks. I choose the copper brown color. Matches my eyes. Why doesn’t society understand ? Where just different.