Irreparable: Brown Signs Bill Banning ‘Reparative Therapy’ — Are We Sure That’s OK?

Gay right flag being bleached out

Artist’s depiction. Do not try this at home.

So this is a tough one.

I mean really — it’s a tough one.

I can’t figure it out.

Governor Brown recently approved a bill that bans “reparative therapy” for any individual under 18 years of age.  The governor tweeted:

This bill bans non-scientific “therapies” that have driven young people to depression and suicide.  These practices have no basis in science or medicine.

The subject is undoubtedly controversial.  Proponents of GLBT rights celebrated, along with their army of doctors, therapists, child-behavioral experts, survivors  and supporters.   Proponents of reparative therapy threatened to sue, flanked by their supporters, including some constitutional law experts.

The whole time I’m reading this CNN Article, I’m thinking: “what the hell did the Governor say?”

What he said was (clearly I’m paraphrasing): if it isn’t supported by science and it hurts kids, we can ban it.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

To a certain extent, he’s right.  The State has a valid interest in protecting it’s citizens from fraudulent medical practices and it’s been doing so for a long, long time.  It’s the main reason why we aren’t hassled by our local snake-oil salesman every Saturday morning.  This is a very good thing and a government service we all continue to need in some fashion or another.  One might even argue it’s a fundamental right of the governed in modern society.

To a certain extent, he’s also very wrong.  The State has a very limited ability to ban anything, particularly when science says it’s wrong.

Let’s take a closer look at the logic behind the claim.  Is it true that we can ban anything that science says is wrong and that does (or might) hurt kids?

Books?  Nope.  Can’t ban those.  I don’t care if the Bible says the world is 4000 years old and science says it’s off by a few billion here or there.  The Bible (depending on one’s interpretation . . . please don’t write me a nasty note) also pretty much advocates beating kids.  Still can’t ban it.

Food?  Nope.  Can’t ban that.  If I want to go to the store, buy a 12 pack of Mountain Dew and hand my toddler a can of soda, there ain’t nuthin’ Uncle Sam can do about it.  Sure, there’s a very long list of harmful side effects supported by science . . . Still can’t ban it.

Sports?  Nope.  Can’t ban those either.  You can slap a helmet on your kid and send him tumbling down the grid iron, fling your child fifteen feet in the air while flipping off a trampoline, send them zooming around the go-kart track at fifty-five miles an hour, or have them hurl a hard round object at another child who proposes to defend himself with a large metal stick . . . all activities that science says hurts kids.  Still.  Can’t.  Ban.  It.

How about something absolutely more relevant.  How about other forms of “quackery” as Governor Brown calls it.

Astrology: Legal.  You want to tell your kid that his day is governed by the constellation Sagittarius and the retrograde of Venus?  Knock yourself out.  Science says you’re stupid and your kid being told that he’s not responsible for his own actions due to the unknowable universe (again, please . . . no angry letters . . .) can’t be good for your kid, but we can’t ban it.

Fortune Tellers: Legal.  You want to go pay $5 to discuss your kid’s questionable mole over a crystal ball?  Sure.  We condone that one.  Science says you should still wear plenty of spf 50, but if your kid gets melanoma even though your fortune teller told you it was going to be a cloudy day . . . well, we’re cool with that.

Psychics: Legal.  Pulled too many colors this week in class?  Maybe your desk is haunted?  Perhaps you’re possessed?  Maybe a little poltergeist has too much influence?  Well,  you get the idea.

How about one that’s not so silly.

Not vaccinating your child: Legal.  Science universally declares you to be a rotten parent if you do this one.  You can go right ahead and put your child’s very life at risk AND WORSE the lives of hundreds (if not thousands) of other children, too.  Banned?  Nope.  Perfectly legal.  <– **Note, also has a cultish following.

Let’s take a look at the flip side of the coin.

Cigarettes?  Yeah, we can ban those.  They cause cancer, they’re addicting, and if you want to chose to kill yourself by smoking them, you ought to be an adult.  You can’t give your kid a cigarette and ask him to light up with you on a Saturday night.

Alcohol?  Yeah, we can ban that and we can ban it for longer than just about every other Western Country.  Why?  Because up to a certain age, booze causes developmental delays.  After that point . . . well, I dunno . . . but we can ban it.  If you want to get some sort of liver disease as an adult, well, then you’re on your own.

Driving? Yes and no.  Yes, we can ban it for 16 years, but after that, kids are free to engage in the deadliest activity for their age group.  You can give your kid a car, but you can’t let your six year old drive it.
Spray paint?  Yup, we can ban that.  No tagging for you, Johnny.  If you want to buy that can of fire engine red for your soap box derby car, you’ll need an adult to come down and purchase it for you.

So, where are we at on this one?  How do we as Californians justify the ban of a practice that science says hurts kids?  We clearly don’t apply this razor universally, either because we’re unwilling to or because it doesn’t make sense to.  Clearly there’s a trigger point for a gut reaction that says: “Yeah, that ain’t right.  Ban it.”  But, we’re better than that.

We are a society of laws and order.  Like it or not, the rules that regulate our behavior, including those that prohibit behavior, have to have some vague semblance to logical reasoning — preferably a strong semblance.  If we don’t and we agree that we can make laws because the end justifies the means, we’re really no better than the racists and bigots we claim to despise.

I have absolutely no wish to over simplify this law, the impact it has on the GLBT community, or to embarrass Governor Brown.  I only wish to highlight the incredibly slippery slope that must be closely observed whenever an agent of the government moves to ban anything.  The first reaction of the consenting electorate ought not to be of jubilation, but rather it should be one of fear, trepidation, and furious resolve to ensure that justice is not being trodden upon in the name of tolerance.

Are we really sure this is the right thing to do?  Do we understand the consequences?  Is the sacrifice of liberty justified?

Do we agree with the logic of this bill?  If so — how far does the slippery slope of state intervention in parental decisions regarding their children’s mental health go?

About Ryan Cantor

Our conservative columnist, raised in North Orange County, works as an auditor.