SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would ban the use of conversion therapy on minors made its first leap forward during a hearing at the Utah State Capitol Tuesday morning — albeit with tweaks that its sponsor refused to support.
An amended HB399 passed through the House Judiciary Committee with an 8-4 vote and will be moved to the Utah House of Representatives for a vote.
Conversion therapy is a therapy tactic intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. While the bill passed, it didn’t without controversy.
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, the sponsor of the initial bill, was among those who dissented the new bill. He stated the new bill no longer aids the people who it was intended to protect.
"Just to make it clear, (this bill) will not prevent conversion therapy," he told his fellow committee members.
The group Equality Utah also opposed the changes. In a tweet, the group called the new bill a “sham” that protects conversion therapists instead of children. They planned a press conference for Wednesday morning to discuss the bill.
“We came to the Capitol in good faith to save LGBTQ lives. The Governor and the House Judiciary Committee rejected the leading scientific consensus that conversion therapy is harmful and endangers youth," the group's executive director, Troy Williams, said in a statement. "The Committee’s new substitute bill would have authorized conversion therapy, instead of protecting children from it.”
Their remarks were in reference to the fourth of five potential substitutes of the bill that the committee moved to push forward Tuesday morning. Each of the substitutes had been compiled after Hall introduced the first draft of the bill on Feb. 22.
What the state defines as impermissible conversion therapy on a minor was altered in the fourth substitute.
The new bill defines impermissible conversion therapy on a minor as “a practice or treatment that; claims that the therapy will result in a complete and permanent reversal in the patient or client’s sexual orientation; asserts that a complete and permanent change in the patient or client’s sexual orientation is necessary; subjects a patient or client to physical discomfort through aversive treatment that causes nausea, vomiting, or other unpleasant physical sensations; or provides electric shock or other electrical therapy, including electroconvulsive therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation.”
A previous version of the bill stated it was impermissible for conversion therapists to promise a client that therapy “can or will result in a complete and permanent change in the patient or client’s sexual orientation.”
“One of the primary concerns was that children were being told ‘if you just follow my special recipe, then X will happen,’” Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, and a co-sponsor of the substituted bill told the committee during the two-hour meeting. “This may not be the perfect guide to the very best practice that could be out there; however, the way our legislative framework works is not necessarily mandating the perfect and the best practice out there is always performed. It is usually to try to say don’t do these things that we know are harmful.”
Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, questioned why the new bill also didn’t include gender identity.
“Gender identity, as it relates to sex change procedures and the psychology that goes along with that, was difficult to fit into this,” Brammer responded. “When we spoke to various therapists, they were always saying ‘That’s a completely different matter. You cannot mix those in a way that makes sense.’”
Brammer argued in favor of the changes in the meeting before the final vote was cast. He said they were made in an effort to move the bill forward instead of killing it, and that the fourth substitute was an attempt to balance “the harm among youth” with “the potential chilling effect on therapists, on parents (and) on patients that can occur in the event the wrong standard is set.”
“In many ways, we’re trying to thread a needle here that is very difficult,” he said. “We’ve tried to listen to as many voices as we can and as many people as we can. I don’t know if there’s a person on this committee that doesn’t see the need for something. I think the disagreement is over how it’s defined.”
The bill was added to bills to be read in the House Tuesday afternoon before the state House of Representatives will vote on the measure. According to the Deseret News, Utah would be the 16th state to ban the practice on minors if the law passes.