Governor concedes Church worries on ‘conversion therapy’ ban
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that concerns from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about a perceived lack of safeguards for religious beliefs in a proposed ban on so-called conversion therapy raise legitimate questions, but he thinks they can be resolved.
The Republican governor said at his monthly news conference on KUED-TV that he’s hopeful a ban will be in place soon. It would prohibit the discredited practice of using therapy to try to change an LGBTQ person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Herbert in June called on regulators to craft a rule after a legislative proposal failed. The governor, who like nearly two-thirds of the state’s residents is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he thinks there’s nearly unanimous agreement in Utah that conversion therapy should be prohibited.
The rule would ban Utah psychologists from subjecting LGBTQ minors to the practice that the American Psychological Association says is not based in science and is harmful to mental health.
“The only question seems to be: Is it written in such a way that is too broad? Will it impact on parental rights inappropriately? Does it impact on religious beliefs inappropriately?” Herbert said. “Those are issues that I think are legitimate questions that I believe can be worked out.”
Herbert’s comments come a week after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its opposition to the ban, saying the rule failed to safeguard religious beliefs and doesn’t account for “important realities of gender identity in the development of children.”
Decades ago, the Church taught that homosexuality could be “cured.” Leaders have since said it’s not a sin, but the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage and intimacy.
Church government affairs director Marty Stephens said Wednesday that the faith denounces conversion therapy and wants a ban. But he said the rule needs exemptions for religious leaders and parents and grandparents who are therapists so they can provide spiritual counseling to parishioners or their families.
The legislation had those exemptions, which is why the church did not oppose it, he said.
Stephens said the faith doesn’t ascribe to “pray the gay away” thinking but that prayer and religious teachings can be helpful to people trying to navigate life’s challenges.
The Church said in a letter to regulators that it would support a “carefully tailored” rule to ban “abusive” practices but contended the proposal defines sexual orientation and efforts to change sexual orientation so broadly that it “would imperil legitimate and helpful therapies to the detriment of minor clients.”
For instance, the church claims the rule wouldn’t allow therapists to discuss strategies for avoiding same-sex intimacy when young people seek help to adhere to the Church’s teachings.
Cliff Rosky, an advisory council member for the LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah who helped draft the original legislation, said the Church’s concerns about the rule not protecting clergy, parents and grandparents may not be necessary because they have protections in state law.
He said none of the 18 states with conversion therapy bans explicitly exempt conversations between a therapist and their child because it only applies when they are acting in a professional capacity.
“You don’t need a license to talk to your child or grandchild, so you can’t lose a license for doing that,” Rosky said.
Equality Utah has reached out to Church leaders to discuss their concerns, he said.
During a public hearing about the rule in September, a parade of LGBTQ people said undergoing the therapy led to shame, depression and for some, suicide attempts.
Opponents argued that the rule would prevent parents from getting help for their children with “unwanted” gay feelings or even from talking about sexuality.
A staff member with Department of Commerce, Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which is crafting the rule, said at the hearing that about 85% of the 1,300 comments submitted at that time supported the ban. The department this week refused to release a final breakdown in the nearly 2,500 public comments that came in about the rule.
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