WASHINGTON — Legislation that would ban a controversial practice known as “gay conversion therapy” is picking up steam in the Maryland General Assembly.
The state Senate gave the ban initial approval Tuesday after a lengthy debate.
“Conversion therapy is a torturous process in which a minor is robbed of their true identity,” said Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery County, during a previous hearing on the bill. “They are forced into changing their sexual orientation or their gender identity.”
Also known as “reparative therapy,” the process aims to eliminate someone’s sexual desires for members of their own sex through counseling and psychotherapy.
Under the Maryland bill, health care professionals who try to carry out the therapy with a minor would face consequences.
They could be fined or even lose their licenses.
“It is a practice that has been wholly discredited by all reputable health care organizations,” said Madaleno, who is openly gay.
“I can’t imagine the pain a young person would go through.”
Nine states and several cities, including D.C., have banned conversion therapy, and laws barring it have withstood legal challenges in California and New Jersey.
But critics have argued that such bans could easily infringe on certain mental health services, particularly religious-based counseling.
During floor debate Tuesday, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Baltimore County, said that the Maryland bill could prevent a child who has questions about his or her sexuality from talking through their issues.
“This bill does not allow the professionals to discuss any alternative with those who are questioning,” Salling said. “We should all worry about that.”
Sen. Bob Cassilly, R-Harford County, called the legislation a “slippery slope.”
“For us to wade into this is unnecessary,” Cassilly said. “We’re not the appropriate body to decide standards of practice for patients. We should not be setting the state of the art on this or any other medical procedure.”
The legislative session is set to end in less than two weeks on April 9.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.