Colorado bill to ban gay conversion therapy clears House
Author: John Tomasic - March 7, 2017 - Updated: March 7, 2017
An effort three years running in Colorado to ban gay conversion therapy moved forward on Tuesday. All 37 state House Democrats and one Republican voted in favor of sending the proposal to the Republican-controlled Senate.
Sponsor, Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a Denver Democrat and co-founder of the legislative LGBT caucus, was hopeful that this year’s bill, HB-1156, might receive the kind of welcome in the Senate that doesn’t spell immediate doom.
“It always feels good to get a bill through the House,” he said after Tuesday’s 38-27 vote. “I know that my Republican colleagues faced a lot of pressure to vote against this bill. I can add that some said privately that they would have liked to vote for it… But, hey, we got Thurlow. He’s voted for it three years in a row.”
Rep. Dan Thurlow, a Grand Junction Republican, has drawn heat ever since he was elected in 2014 for straying from the party line. Thurlow says his positions come from a commitment to small-government, no matter the topic.
“To me, the conservative position is to stay out of other people’s lives,” he explained in 2015 after voting for the first version of Rosenthal’s bill. “I’m not trying to change anybody.”
The bill would prohibit licensed therapists from subjecting minors to anti-gay conversion treatment.
In testimony last month before the House Public Health committee, witnesses noted that the medical profession decades ago turned away from the opinion that homosexuality is an illness and removed it from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual of diseases. Witnesses at the hearing likened gay conversion therapy to “cures” of the past not based in science but in wishful thinking or religious faith. They referred to studies that show conversion fails to change sexual orientation but that it succeeds at fueling adolescent depression and anxiety.
“This bill does not interfere with a parent’s exercise of their rights, nor does it interfere with therapist freedom of speech or religion,” said Rosenthal at the hearing. He argued that Coloradans already accept the necessity of state intervention as a matter of safety in cases of abuse and misguided treatment.
Rosenthal pointed out that in 2001 “Candace’s Law” banned so-called rebirthing therapy in Colorado. The law passed in the wake of the death of Candace Newmaker, who was ten years old when she suffocated during a 70-minute therapy session in which she was swathed in fabric and surrounded by pillows.
“The Legislature acted on that 15 years ago,” Rosenthal said. “That was the state saying there was a certain practice that was harmful to children. This bill is similar in that vein.”
The bill would not categorize conversion therapy as child abuse, Rosenthal said, responding to a question from Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican from Fountain. The bill simply takes conversion off the table as a professionally practiced therapy, he said.
Robin Goodspeed, who calls herself an “ex-homosexual,” testified at the hearing against the bill. She said she was “freed of her chosen lesbian life due to the grace of God and the power of Jesus Christ.”
“There are thousands of homosexuals who have been similarly freed,” she said. She explained that she felt she was not born homosexual but that she chose homosexuality as a way to act out the confusion that came from being molested as a child. “Homosexuality is a choice and a behavior,” she said. “It is a myth that we are born that way.”
Parents also testified against the bill, arguing that it moved the government out of its proper place in the public sphere and into the realm of family and faith.
Support and opposition for the ban has followed much the same pattern for years.
This year, however, in addition to the support of Thurlow, Rosenthal’s bill drew a nod from high-profile conservative former Republican state Senate minority leader and onetime GOP candidate for governor Josh Penry, who tweeted in favor of the bill before the hearing.
But Penry is out of public office and, for now at least, seems not to be planning to run again any time soon — a point underlined by House Minority Caucus Chair Landgraf in her response to his tweet.
Rosenthal points out that leadership in the Senate has changed this year. He hopes President Kevin Grantham — a Canon City Republican and a widely respected and strong conservative figure who nevertheless seems less ideological than many contemporary party leaders — may allow the bill to reach the floor for full debate and a vote.
Rosenthal concedes it’s a long shot. He is just hoping his intentions with the bill come across loud and clear.
“Look, it’s about protecting kids,” he said. “Kids are designed to trouble us, not the other way around.”