New Mexico Latest State to Ban Discredited 'Ex-gay' Therapy

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez signed into law on Friday a measure against widely discredited "ex-gay" conversion therapy, making the Land of Enchantment the seventh state to prohibit ban the practice for youth.

In a message to the legislature, the Republican governor said she signed the legislation, Senate Bill 122, out of belief "certain practices" harm children, although she never explicitly names the practice.

"I've spent my career fighting for kids, both as a prosecutor and as governor," Martinez said. "It is for this reason that I sign Senate Bill 121, which bans certain practices that have been shown to cause harm to children."

The practice of therapy aimed at changing an individual's sexual orientation or transgender status is considered ineffectual at best and harmful at worst. Major medical and psychological institutions, including American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, widely reject conversion therapy.

"I do not lightly enact legislation that makes government a party to the medical care decision-making of a parent and child," Martinez said. "Yet, at the same time, numerous reputable medical organizations like the American Psychological Association have rebuked this practice, stating it may lead to depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, self-hatred, substance abuse, and suicide."

Martinez said the new law will augment the ability of New Mexico "to investigate and respond appropriately to complaints relating to abusive practices, and use their training to define appropriate discipline."

At the same time, Martinez identified limitations in the bill aimed at ensuring a child's right to seek mental health care and the freedom of religious expression.

"This bill does not prohibit a minor's ability to seek counsel, advice, or guidance from a counselor if they are trying to understand their feelings, nor does it prohibit religious organizations from freely practicing their religion," Martinez said.

Amber Royster, executive director of Equality New Mexico, said in a statement the signing of the law is not just a victory for New Mexico, but one for herself after having endured conversion therapy.

"As a survivor of conversion therapy that happened right here in my home state of New Mexico, it's a very special day to see this barbaric and dangerous practice banned in the place that I grew up and call home," Royster said. "My hope is that parents and families everywhere will think twice before seeking to change their LGBTQ child or loved one, and now we have the legal mechanism to ensure it doesn't happen at the hands of licensed practitioners in New Mexico."

Approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature, SB122 amends the state law to include use of conversion therapy on a minor as reason to deny, revoke or suspend licenses held by nurses, doctors and mental health experts. To recover the costs of investigations leading to these decisions, the state may institute fines on these practitioners.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Martinez' decision to ban conversion therapy is "an incredible victory for LGBTQ youth in New Mexico."

"No child should be subjected to this dangerous practice that amounts to nothing more than child abuse," Warbelow said. "By signing this crucially important legislation into law, Gov. Martinez is standing up for vulnerable youth who deserve to be loved and supported for who they are."

New Mexico is the seventh state to enact a ban on "ex-gay" therapy for minors after California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and New York. D.C. also has a law banning the practice. The bans on "ex-gay" therapy in some of those states have been subject to litigation on the basis they violate freedom of speech and religion, but each time upheld as constitutional.

Martinez is third Republican governor to sign into law a state ban on "ex-gay" therapy after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D-Alberquerque), who's gay and sponsor of the legislation in the New Mexico Senate, said in a statement Martinez' decision to sign the law demonstrates "protecting all children from abuse transcends party labels and ideological differences."

"In New Mexico, we value and celebrate every child for who they are," Candelaria said. "I want to thank Gov. Martinez for having the courage to stand up for the simple truth that every LGBTQ kid in New Mexico is born perfect. I also want to thank the victims of conversion 'therapy' who came forward to support this bill. Their stories did not fall on deaf ears. They turned their suffering into a force for good, and because of them, and for them, we have made history."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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