New Mexico appears set to become the seventh state in the US to pass a bill that bans health care workers from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors, according to a top lawmaker there who calls so-called LGBT conversion therapy “a misnomer, a sham.”
House Speaker Brian Egolf told BuzzFeed News, “You don’t know for sure until the roll call is taken, but we feel confident for the prospects for the bill.”
Although the governor, Republican Susana Martinez, has not asserted her position, Egolf added, “This doesn’t seem to be developing as a partisan issue, which is very good.”
The victory would come as religious conservatives have blocked LGBT nondiscrimination measures in states around the country over the past several years, while Republicans have filed hundreds of bills to limit the rights of same-sex couples and transgender people.
Senate Bill 121 would amend the state’s Unfair Practice Act to ban licensed health care professionals from any “treatment that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including any effort to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward persons of the same sex.”
It passed the New Mexico senate on a 32-6 vote last month, and a House committee advanced the bill on Wednesday. Egolf, the House’s top Democrat, expects it to pass another committee and win approval from his full chamber.
New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, New York, and Vermont have similar policies.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, an outspoken backer of the legislation, said it “has not has created polarization you’ve experienced in other states.”
“I’m Catholic and Hispanic,” he said in an interview with BuzzFeed News, “and I just believe that our community needs to ensure there are protections to minimize discrimination and that no government institution or professional practice should harm a child. For me, the debate starts at that point.”
Balderas added that his office has been in touch with New Mexico residents who experienced conversion therapy, which he called a “dangerous practice devoid of any real science”
Mental health professionals have widely condemned the practice as dangerous and unnecessary.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and others said in a 2008 report that they have “all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be ‘cured.’”
But there was resistance to the bill in a committee meeting on Wednesday, where Rep. Rebecca Dow, a Republican, questioned its potential impact on Christians.
“If someone is a licensed therapist, and they are a Christian therapist, and they are operating under a religious—” she paused. “Would they lose their license?”
One father who came to testify, Gilbert Pino, wished he had given his son conversion therapy.
“We had no idea when he was young,” he told the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wedensday. “We found out when he grew up. We would have loved to have therapy at the time…we could have really used it.”
“This bill really, really, it is not a good bill,” he continued. “If we do away with these kind of things, the availability to do this…how will we tell between conversion therapy and therapy?”
Lawmakers then voted 5-2 to send the bill to the Judiciary Committee.
Governor Martinez’s office did not answer a question about her stance on the bill.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Andres Romero, said he has heard from constituents concerned the bill would infringe on their faith. However, he added, “People can talk about their religion, but the cannot use their religion to try to actively change who someone fundamentally is.”
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