Wednesday morning, I came across a headline that set my teeth on edge: “Mormon Church urges Utah not to bar ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ minors.”
As someone who writes articles for a living, let me tell you a little secret: the more emotion-driven a headline, the more clicks it’s going to get. And this CBS headline? Woof. It’s got a strong “The Mormon Church is sinister!” subtext if I’ve ever seen one, not to mention the fact that it’s completely misleading.
The article itself isn’t necessarily bad — it does report a few facts surrounding the Church’s opposition to the conversion therapy ban — but it’s anything but thorough.
So for anyone who wants actual facts from someone who didn’t simply copy and paste from an AP Press release — someone who actually read the proposed rule banning conversion therapy and the Family Services letter explaining why the Church opposes the rule as it currently stands — look no further.
The Church Opposes Conversion Therapy
Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually OPPOSES any form of therapy that seeks to “repair” or “convert” anyone’s sexual orientation, and has called conversion therapy practices such as electric shock and aversion “ineffective and harmful.”
In fact, the Church actually favored a bill (HB399) proposed earlier this year that also banned conversion therapy — a fact that most news outlets, including CBS, have conveniently failed to report. Of this would-be legislation, the Church said, “We appreciate the willingness of the sponsor of this legislation to work with us to make sure that counseling that is in line with the Church’s standards, such as abstinence before marriage, does not fall under the definition of conversion therapy. Our initial concerns over religious freedom issues have been addressed and resolved, so the Church does not oppose the bill in its current form.”
Unfortunately, that bill — which had initially been very similar to the conversion therapy bans in place in several other states — was later terribly modified (to the point where it would no longer protect many people in the LGBTQ+ community) and subsequently dropped.
Then, several months later, came the current proposed rule banning conversion therapy.
Why Does the Church Oppose the Proposed Rule?
In Family Services’ 13-page letter to Utah’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, they explained about the current proposed rule:
“While acknowledging the good-faith efforts of those who drafted the Proposed Rule and fully supporting the goal of protecting children and youth from abusive conversion therapy practices, Family Services regretfully cannot support the Proposed Rule in its current form. The Proposed Rule is ambiguous in key areas and overbroad in others; it fails to account for important realities of gender identity development in children; it would undermine the right of clients to self-determination and the right of parents to guide the development of their children; and it ignores the important and ethically appropriate role of faith-based perspectives in counseling” (emphasis added).
The letter goes on to explain that the proposed rule defines certain terms, like “sexual orientation change efforts,” so broadly that even legitimate and helpful therapy practices requested by a patient and utilized by their therapist could be considered illegal and threaten that therapist’s licenses. Several examples are given, including that of a 12-year-old boy who is gay and views homosexual pornography, but wishes to stop based on personal goals and religious reasons. If that therapist were to help that child, based on his request, to attempt the removal of pornography from his life, it could be considered a “sexual orientation change effort” and threaten the therapist’s license.
Because of the rule’s wording, “It appears that any therapy with the goal of changing a behavior closely associated with sexual orientation [view the example above] is by definition an effort to change sexual orientation” and would thereby be illegal.
The obvious issue the Church has with the proposed bill, then, is not the banning of conversion therapy (this much is evidenced alone by the Church’s acceptance of the pre-modified HB399); the concern is based entirely on the rule’s ambiguous language and the fact that it could prohibit proven helpful therapy practices.
There’s truth to a remark that someone I know said: Craft legislation broad enough and you hurt people by prohibiting legitimate, established, successful counseling practices and you may even contribute to teen suicide. Craft the legislation too narrowly and people get hurt because only the most egregious practices are banned.
So please, next time you read a headline claiming the Church is pro- or anti-something, do a little background research. Don’t believe the first thing you hear. Certainly don’t trust that the media will paint the Church fairly or that it will explain the Church’s viewpoint, because a good chunk of the time, it won’t. In this case, the headlines splattered across the internet aren’t just abrasive and emotional, they’re also a complete misrepresentation of the Church’s beliefs.
The Church is not against the banning of conversion therapy, as so many news outlets would lead you to believe; rather, it’s against the banning of legitimate, helpful therapeutic practices that are not intended to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
And that, unlike many of the headlines you’ve read, is the truth.