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Should Brazil Legalize 'Conversion' Therapy?


Legalizing marriage equality isn't a cure-all for homophobia.

There's a common, wishful misconception that marriage equality brings rainbows and sunshine and washes away all anti-gay attitudes forever. It doesn't. Nor does it cleanse people of self-hate. For proof, look down toward Brazil, where the nation's highest court legalized marriage equality in May and where a congressional human rights committee just approved a bill that would lift prohibitions on reparative, or conversion, therapy, the so-called "gay cure."

These therapies, which can range from traditional sit-and-chat to electroshock and often come with religious proselytizing, were banned in Brazil in 1999 by the country's Federal Psychology Council, but evangelical lawmaker Joao Campos has doggedly been campaigning for a repeal. He thinks at the very least adults should be able to get "ex-gay" therapy.

"In practice, (the initiative's) result would be that a person over 18 years of age, responsible for his actions, who is homosexual and wants to reorient his sexuality, can be attended by a psychologist," said Campos. But another council member, Huberto Verona, pointed out that psychologists and doctors "recognize that sexual orientation is not a pathology that should be treated, it is not a perversion nor a disorder nor a behavioral disturbance. Since this is the case, we cannot offer a cure, and that is an ethical principle."

The Pan American Medical Association said last year that ex-gay therapies "represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people." The American Psychology Association and the American Medical Association have agree: these so-called treatments do more harm than good. Yet despite these warnings, clearly some people believe such treatments should be readily available, and champions are just as virulent about expanding a hackneyed, dangerous practice as they are about restricting a woman's right to accessible, sanitary abortions.

These therapies have become such a widely criticized and well-publicized matter that activists and lawmakers here in the States -- New Jersey, New York and California, to name a few -- are trying to ban "conversion" therapy for minors. It's far more difficult to ban the practice altogether because of free speech laws and the such, of course, but it's a start.

What's your take on this roiling and often overlooked debate: should adults be allowed to get reparative therapy if they want? There are laws against self-harm, and the American Psychiatric Association says conversion therapies "are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable [and] anecdotal reports of 'cures' are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm." Is protecting the public more important than hate-driven "medicine?"

As for Campos's efforts in Brazil: he's tried this before and it simply passed because other, more liberal lawmakers were out for the day. The proposal has to go back to another round of debate and will likely be squashed. For now.

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Andrew Belonsky