One of the tenets of the religious anti-gay movement has been that it was possible to
‘pray away the gay’. Also known as Conversion or Reparative Therapy, the concept comes from the past when being gay was considered a mental illness that needed to be cured. Although not always tied specifically to religion, in most cases, it was driven by religious belief. For a comedic/satirical look at the idea, watch the movie “But I’m a Cheerleader“.
About 2 weeks ago, the governor of California signed a bill outlawing conversion therapy for minors. The result in the state has been several lawsuits calling this an attack on parental rights. The National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the Pacific Justice Institute are planning on launching lawsuits against the legislation on the grounds that it inhibits freedom of religion and parental rights.
What this means is that these organizations want to overturn a law designed to protect children because they believe their rights as parents override the right of the government to prevent abuses to those children.
Roman Catholics agree with these views. In the words of Ned Dolejsi, director of the California Catholic Conference:
“Parents have the best interests of their children in mind, and if they determine that particular types of therapies or interventions are needed, that’s certainly their right, and this law doesn’t respect that,”
“for the legislature to step in and assume that they need to protect children from their parents and or therapists is in my opinion arrogant and presumptuous.”
Bill May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, is concerned about the law’s effect on youths’ well-being.
“This bill not only violates parental rights but the rights of the child to know the truth about true love, true friendship, marriage, and healthy use of human sexuality,” May said.
The law also raises concerns about religious freedom.
“It would prohibit Catholic, licensed counselors – including some priests, nuns and counselors in Catholic schools – from treating the whole person according to Catholic teaching. In counseling they can only affirm same-sex attraction or gender confusion, or put their licenses in jeopardy,” he said.
The bill’s sponsor Ted Lieu, agrees with the intent, but begins from a different perspective. Rather than focus on freedom of religion and parental rights, his focus is on the rights and protection of the children.
“The attack on parental rights is exactly the whole point of the bill, because we don’t want to let parents harm their children,”
He compared reparative therapy to minors’ use of tobacco and alcohol, and stated, “reparative therapy hurts children, so this bill allows us to stop parents from hurting their children.”
Here in Canada, the NDP is looking to push similar reforms.
At its convention last year, the federal NDP passed a resolution to see the Canada Revenue Agency de-register “ex-gay” organizations in Canada, such as Exodus Global Alliance, a sister organization to Exodus International that proclaims that “homosexuality can be overcome by the grace of God” and counsels people to the ultimate goal of no longer being gay.
Last year Exodus — which says on its 2011 CRA documents that it “provides support services to people impacted by homosexuality,” — recieved $44,507 in tax-deductible donations, accounting for 54% of its revenue.
Living Waters Canada received $458,001 in receipted donations, making up about 72% of its revenue.
Because the charities are religious, they pass the Income Tax Act’s common law test, which assumes the advancement of religion is in service of the public good. But a charity isn’t functioning in the public good if it’s doing anything illegal or causing “extreme physical or emotional harm” to a lot of people, said Toronto charity tax lawyer Mark Blumberg.
Of course, there is push-back from organizations threatened with taxes.
Wendy Gritter, executive director of New Direction Ministries in Toronto, said authorities should not rush to revoke charitable status from groups because someone doesn’t like what they stand for.
“There’s lots of organizations that have charitable status that have beliefs and values other Canadians would not like. And so I think we need to be very careful about trying to legislate our charities to kind of have a certain belief structure.”
The removal of tax free status is unlikely to occur because of the privileged status religion has in this country. Most of us are familiar with the bans on blood transfusions by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and all medicine by the Christian Scientists. Neither of these organizations is in any danger of losing their tax free status.
We also seem to be limited in how we are able to protect our children from other types of medical quackery. Some chiropractors endorse spinal manipulations for infants, and people have no qualms about using acupuncture or homoeopathy on their children. Parents are even allowed a religious exemption from vaccinating their children. There has been no public or political outcry in these areas at all.
Let’s keep a close eye on these proceedings. If children can be protected from non-scientific treatments such as gay reparative therapy, perhaps in the future, we will be able to protect them from these other useless, and potentially dangerous, treatments.