Conversion Therapy is not Religious Freedom

Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

On the 31st of May, 2019, Colorado governor Jared Polis signed a bill to outlaw gay conversion therapy performed on minors. This makes Colorado the largest state to move forward with such a ban. The move has been received exceedingly well by most of America and especially the LGBT community. However, there are many religious zealots who contend that this bill puts the religious rights of parents at risk. According to them, their rights begin where their children’s sexuality ends.

Conversion Therapy Through The Years

The history of “gay conversion therapy”, more appropriately called conversion torture, begins in the late 1800s. At the time, due to one part religious bigotry and one part bad science, homosexuality was deemed a mental disorder. Conversion treatments were developed with various different mechanisms. These ranged from relatively benign hypnosis to vicious electroshock treatments, both of which some doctors still practice today. Several doctors claimed to have turned gay men straight. But when examining their records in the light of modernity, we find their patient’s symptoms less heterosexual and more traumatic sexual aversion.

The Pseudoscience is Disproven

Over the years, conversion therapy has moved away from its flawed scientific perspective. As science advanced and acknowledged homo and bisexuality as natural and biologically useful persuasions, they were declassified as mental disorders. Now, the first half of conversion therapy is its entirety. Nearly all current conversion therapy centers operate out of religious motivation. Really, there is no other way it could be done. This is because there is not a single shred of medical evidence that homosexulaity is a mental disorder of any kind.

Mental disorders are neurological conditions that negatively affect a person’s normal functioning. In the 20th century, when homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder, it did seem like being gay impaired people’s normal functioning. However, the people observed in order to draw this conclusion were already in psychiatric care for some other reason. There was no control group in the studies. These faulty studies were eventually disproven and the already flimsy secular case against homosexuality entirely vanished. The “homosexuality as a mental illness” idea was born out of religiosity rather than genuine scientific inquiry. So with the support of science gone from the viewpoint, religion could either let conversion therapy dissolve or it could consume it.

Normalization of Homosexuality

In the 80s and 90s, clinicians started to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, and secular conversion centers began disappearing. With the departure of scientists from the field, religious conversion centers had themselves a field day. They brought the anti-gay pseudo-science to the pulpit, to Sunday school, and to bible study. Concerns were raised over the children of the congregation experiencing “same-sex attraction” or being inducted into the Gay Agenda. The suspected and actual sexuality of minors were put on trial, and although to a lesser extent today, still are.

These conversion centers use many of the same arcane conversion techniques that have already proven themselves ineffective in the past. But worse, they implement an additional element of religious, social, and familial shame around the child. The pastors, ministers, and other religious counselors say “love the sinner, hate the sin”. However, this doesn’t change the fact that these people say explicitly, that who a person is and loves makes them exceptionally sinful. Various studies have found that this not only doesn’t work to change a person’s sexuality but also carries with it significant psychological harm.

A Conflict of Rights

Religious freedom, as outlined in the American constitution, is the principle that the government is not within its rights to regulate the practice of any religion. The US government is not able to discriminate against any citizen on the basis of their religion. It is also to remain secular in all law-making, court proceedings, and superficial national tradition. However, the US government also exists in itself to protect the rights of all citizens- most importantly, the pursuit of happiness, liberty, and life. This is why the government enforces laws against assault and murder, even when motivated out of some perceived value.

The reason conversion torture is being outlawed is the same reason hate crimes are outlawed. A person’s right to hate ends where it infringes on someone else’s rights. A parent’s right to raise their child how they wish ends when abuse begins. When we examine the facts of conversion therapy, it is nothing short of abuse. It falls no closer to the umbrella of religious freedom than Female Genital Mutilation or forced marriage. It is a cruel, ineffective, and hateful practice which can never be justified outside of barbaric bronze age prejudice.


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