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Court puts halt on local conversion therapy bans in Florida

Barbara Lagoa cast the tie-breaking vote in a split decision.

An appellate court tossed out conversion therapy bans in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton.

Both local governments passed laws prohibiting therapists from offering counseling for LGBTQ youth to help suppress unwanted sexual attraction or confusion about their gender identify. Local therapists Robert Otto and Judy Hamilton challenged the laws on First Amendment grounds, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

A three-judge panel at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision ruled the ordinances were “content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”

LGBTQ groups quickly condemned the ruling.

“Every person in this country should be concerned by federal courts ignoring science and striking down laws that protect vulnerable young people from dangerous and unethical practices by licensed mental health providers,” said Mathew Shurka, a spokesperson for Born Perfect and a conversion therapy survivor.

“Today’s decision showed a shocking disregard for the overwhelming medical consensus that conversion therapy is harmful and dangerous, and that no young person should ever be subjected to this practice under any circumstances. We will continue to push for these laws and to help cities and states defend them when they are challenged.”

The ruling applies to ordinances in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Social conservative groups praised the decision. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, suggested the services were valuable to youth.

“These licensed therapists provide life-saving counseling to minors who desperately desire to conform their attractions, behaviors, and gender identities to their sincerely held religious beliefs,” he said in a statement.

There are 20 states that ban the practice of conversion therapy. The Florida Legislature has not passed such a law statewide, though a number of local jurisdictions have passed local ordinances.

Most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry say the therapy does not work and should not be allowed for children.

Critics of the decision noted both appellate judges striking down the ban, Britt Grant and Barbara Lagoa, were appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump. Lagoa, of Florida, previously was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court.

“The majority decision is an outlier and takes an extreme view of the First Amendment, holding that any regulation of talk therapy must survive strict scrutiny,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Similar laws have been reviewed and upheld by two other federal courts of appeal, both of which held that these laws regulate the provision of mental health care and are valid exercises of the government’s authority to protect public health and safety.”

That may indicate the matter is bound for a hearing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. James Robert Miles

    November 21, 2020 at 7:57 am

    This court has just legalized torturing children in the name of religion! Nothing new here in the era of Trump fascism!!

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