On February 15 My Christian Daily ran a piece entitled, “Panel calls therapy for gays ‘a human rights violation’.” The article was a brief overview of the issue of conversion therapy and a meeting of a panel of individuals for what was advertised as “the first ever UN discussion on the legalities, ethics, and science behind the movement promoting [efforts to change sexual orientation].” The meeting, though, was held at Church Center, a known gathering place for “left-wing groups” and not on UN property. Further, according to the article, the event was “sponsored by non-government organizations, and did not feature representatives of any UN member states.”
The controversy over conversion therapy is not new. In fact, just a few months ago California passed a law banning conversion therapy for minors. That law, however, is on hold, following an injunction from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals until the matter can be argued before the courts.
The premise behind conversion therapy is that individuals can be “converted” from homosexual to heterosexual with therapy. The American Psychological Association says on its web site that there is “no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective.” The APA also says that “the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.”
On the other side of the argument are groups like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which argue that the conversion therapy is legitimate, safe and effective. Exodus International used to advocate the therapy as well, though its president, Alan chambers, made news last summer upon announcing that Exodus would no longer use the therapy because it “sets the person seeking therapy up for failure by giving him or her unrealistic expectations.” Chambers told the Gay Christian Network last summer than 99.9 percent of all of the people he has met through Exodus International are still attracted to individuals of the same sex and still struggle with temptation.
Never wanting to miss out on an opportunity to address a hot-button social issue that has nothing to do with its founding, the Southern Poverty Law Center has stated that conversion therapy “is a dangerous practice based on the premise that people can change their sexual orientation, literally ‘converting’ from gay to straight.” Of course the SPLC also calls many conservative Christian groups “hate groups” because of their “intolerance.”
ReligiousTolerance.org is “a multi-faith group” claiming to include members that are Atheist, Agnositc, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist,” and includes on its web site a study of studies, purporting that conversion therapy fails 99.5% of the time.
Now, what point am I trying to make? First of all, there is no therapy known to man that is always effective. Secondly, I doubt that there is any way to accurately measure the “success” of conversion therapy. After all, if someone “cured” if they never engage in homosexual behavior, or only if they never think about engaging in homosexual behavior? Temptation, may I remind you, is not sin. Third, no one is suggesting that homosexuals should be forced to endure conversion therapy. If an individual wants conversion therapy he or she must surely be unhappy with the homosexual tendencies he/she is feeling. Why would we argue against, even suggest banning, a form of therapy that someone wants? After all, people go to therapy to address all kinds of behaviors they do not wish to continue, from smoking to shoplifting to fill-in-the-blank-with-the-troubling-behavior-of-your-choice.
So part of my point is that it makes no sense to ban conversion therapy, and any attempt to do so should be considered a violation of a number of constitutionally-protected rights.
What I found most interesting about the article on the “UN discussion” though was that Rebecca Jordan-Young, a researcher at Barnard College who addressed the group and was “deeply in agreement with the premise of [the] meeting, that sexual orientation change efforts are in fact a human rights violation and a problem” also said that no one should use science to defend such a position. Why? “We don’t really know how sexual orientation develops” she said, despite the fact that many people “think of sexual orientation as something that’s fundamentally biologically driven….” Specifically, Jordan-Young stated that there is no modern scientific research to support such a position.
So, if sexual orientation is not a “just born that way” issue, then it cannot be a civil rights issue. What then should it be? Maybe something more like religion, Jordan-Young suggested, “the freedom of conviction, the freedom of one’s conscience….”
I would actually be comfortable with that analogy, because, while I believe that homosexuality is a sin, I do not believe that it should be criminalized. (I do, however, believe that homosexual marriage should not be permitted). If someone wants to think that homosexuality is okay, he or she has that right. If someone wants to engage in homosexual or bisexual behavior, he or she also has that right. But insisting on redefining marriage based on that thought–conviction, even, if you want to go that far–would not be permissible…for exactly the same reasons that I have argued here before: if we are going to redefine marriage based on what one group of people thinks or believes, we have absolutely no defense against redefining it how any other group may think or believe.
What’s more, the idea that homosexuality is a “freedom of conscience” issue throws wide open the door to allow conversion therapy and efforts to persuade individuals that homosexuality is wrong. After all, the freedom of speech protects my right to try to persuade anyone else to believe the same way I do, whether my ideas are popular of “scientifically verifiable” or not. Even the UN’s own Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief said last October that member states should protect the freedom of religion as well as the right of individuals to convert to another religion and “the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion.”
And Toiko Kleppe, the UN’s senior counsel on LGBT issues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the sole UN representative at the gathering mentioned at the start of this entry, stated that conversion therapy is “unscientific…potentially harmful…and definitely a violation of human rights” before also saying that such therapy would not be a human rights violation “if the patient was able to give informed consent to the therapy.”
Therein lies the rub…the opponents of conversion therapy are making waves and drawing attention to an issue that does not even exist. No one that I know of or have ever heard of is suggesting forced therapy for homosexuals. I do not know of anyone that would condone such practice. No intelligent person wants to go back to the United States of the 1920s when states passed laws permitting forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped, and I do not know any intelligent person that wants to make homosexuality illegal or force conversion therapy on anyone.
So…look beyond the headlines, because usually those who are screaming the loudest are spinning the story for their own benefit. The UN rep makes headlines for saying that conversion therapy is a human rights violation, but little attention is given to her statement that it is not a violation when consent is given. A college researcher tells the group that conversion therapy is a human rights violation, but her statement that sexual orientation is not an innate quality people are born with is ignored.