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House committee votes down bills banning conversion therapy

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ



Monitor staff
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Two bills that would have banned conversion therapy in New Hampshire were rejected by the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on Thursday after Republicans raised concerns about their scope and necessity.

Senate Bill 224 and House Bill 587 both would have prohibited the use of the therapy – a widely discredited method to change a person’s sexual orientation – on minors. The American Psychiatric Association has long called the practice unethical and has warned that it could lead to lasting trauma if applied to children.

The bills would have rendered carrying out the practice on minors “unprofessional conduct” that could lead to disciplinary action against counselors, physicians and therapists by their licensing boards.

Democrats said the bills were necessary to help prevent the use of the therapy in underground settings, as well as protect child safety.

“This is a problem in our state ... this is a population that has a very high suicide rate,” said Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye. “I think if nothing else, this bill will also support the statement that this is not the kind of thing that we want to promote in our state.”

But Republican committee members said while they stand against the practice, banning it isn’t necessary due to its rarity in New Hampshire.

“During the past many many months I’ve endeavored to find examples of anyone who does conversion therapy – around the state, you could not find one,” said Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn.

And Edwards pointed to existing laws on child abuse – as well as reporting requirements for licensed professionals – that he says adequately cover the coercive use of the conversion therapies.

“If anyone was aware of conversion therapy taking place in its worst forms as we know it … there would be a duty and a basis to report that as child abuse,” he said.

Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsboro, responded that the law was intended to apply to situations out of reach of traditional reporting methods – ones in which the therapy is “kept under wraps.”

Others, including Rep. Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead, took issue with what he called an overly-broad definition of conversion therapy. Pearson, the CEO of New Creation Healing Center, a nonprofit organization in Kingston that provides traditional counseling, said that the law might prohibit any counseling to teenagers struggling with their sexuality and seeking help.

Pearson introduced an amendment to HB 587 that would have limited the law’s application to coerced conversion therapy. Democrats protested, arguing that parents forcing their children into conversion therapy might still provide consent.

Pearson’s amendment passed with Republican votes. But in two 12-8, party-line votes, the commission voted both overall bills “inexpedient to legislate.” They will appear before the House next session with recommendations that they be voted down.

Speaking after the vote, Edwards said that he and other Republicans firmly share the belief that conversion therapy is unethical, adding that he personally would be open to a bill whose definition wasn’t too broad. But he said the apparent rarity of the practice in New Hampshire means that the Legislature doesn’t need to rush into a prohibition.

“We have time to get this right,” he said. “That’s my bottom line. We have time to get this right, and it’s complex, and there’s already enforcement mechanism in place, and there’s no evidence it’s occurring.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)