The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to stop Utah from banning conversion therapy.
The Beehive State is considering a licensing rule that would ban the discredited practice, which has been condemned by every major medical organization in the country and can cause serious harm. But on the first day of public comment, church officials submitted a letter objecting to the proposal, claiming it would infringe on “the right of individuals to self-determination and the right of parents to guide the development of their children.”
The church also called for “faith-based perspectives... in professional counseling.”
The proposal would not establish any new laws but would instead clarify requirements for professional licensing. “Engaging in or attempting to engage in the practice of sexual orientation change efforts or gender identity change efforts with a client who is less than 18 years old” would be added to descriptions of unprofessional conduct.
In its statement, the church called for the issue to be addressed legislatively.
That’s exactly what Utah lawmakers tried to do earlier this year, pushing for a statewide bill that would have blocked abusive conversion practices. The church supported that version of the bill, but at the last moment, key provisions on the bill were removed and replaced with language that would have had little impact.
The bill was indefinitely tabled after the change, and community organizers alleged that legislators made the change at the behest of ex-gay activists.
Meanwhie, Utah’s youth suicide rate is among the highest in the country. Experts have stated that conversion practices have a detrimental effect on mental health, with 42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth who have undergone the practice telling the Trevor Project they have considered taking their own lives in the past year.
So far, the proposal has earned preliminary approval from the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing and could be adopted as soon as next week. The public is largely in favor of the proposal. According to the Utah Department of Commerce, 85 percent of the 1,300 letters it’s received on the topic have been in favor of the rule change.
However, dozens of people testified on both sides of the reform at a public comment meeting in Salt Lake City. Supporters pointed out the harm caused by conversion therapy, and opponents claimed that parents should have the freedom to subject their children to the dangerous practice.
But Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says the new regulation “would do nothing more than protect [LGBTQ+] children [from] a life-threatening practice.”
“Suicide is the leading cause of death among Utah’s children, and LGBTQ youth are especially vulnerable,” Williams told the Salt Lake Tribune. “[…] It’s long past time to protect our state’s youth by prohibiting this dangerous practice.”
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have outlawed conversion therapy.