Ban on therapy to change child’s sexual orientation moves forward

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OLYMPIA — A Washington State House panel has unanimously backed banning medical efforts aimed at changing a child’s sexual orientation, a surprising outcome given concerns expressed by Republicans last month.

It is unclear whether the bill will get support in the GOP-controlled state Senate, but the unanimous House committee vote will certainly help.

Republican committee members signed onto House Bill 2451 last week after negotiating an amendment to make clear that supportive therapy and religious-based counseling would still be permitted.

For licensed health-care providers, the bill would make it “unprofessional conduct” to conduct sexual-orientation-change efforts on a patient under 18.

Two other states, California and New Jersey, have similar laws.

But the idea was thought to have little chance in Washington state, where a proposal last year to study the issue failed in even the Democrat-controlled House.

This year, the bill sponsored by then-Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, (he moved to the Senate Jan. 22) got an uneven reception in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee. Democrats expressed support, but Republicans had concerns.

“What about the kid who doesn’t want to be homosexual?” asked state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, at the Jan. 22 hearing.

Another GOP member, Shelly Short of Addy, Stevens County, questioned how often efforts to change sex orientation in minors actually happen.

By Wednesday, however, those concerns had apparently disappeared.

Before the vote, DeBolt called it “a really important issue.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Joe Schmick of Colfax, said, “There are times when you’re a legislator that you learn a lot, and this is one of those issues where we all learned a lot.”

Schmick said he and others “didn’t realize the abuses that were taking place out in the public,” alluding to people who had been forced into therapy as children and had contacted Republicans to tell of the trauma it caused them.

The committee voted 17-0 for the bill.

If it passes on the House floor, as is expected, the bill will go to the Senate.

Sen. Randi Becker, an Enumclaw Republican who runs the Senate health-care committee, has said she will give the proposal a hearing.

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