March 8, 2017

House committee advances bill banning ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque

A House panel approved a bill, along party lines, that would ban the use of therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexuality or gender identity. The practice is often referred to as conversion therapy.

Senate Bill 121 sponsor Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is openly gay, told the House Health and Human Services Committee a personal story about influence from those in power. He said as a child he was “blessed” to have leaders of faith in his life that engaged in conversations of personal identity.

“But I also had priest when I was nine-years-old who told me that if I did not become straight, I was going to hell,” Candelaria said. “I attempted suicide at 11-years old because of it.”

Candelaria said that if the bill becomes law, the priest’s actions would still be protected under the United States Constitution. But, Candelaria said, licensed practitioners would be prohibited from using verbal or physical tactics aimed at changing a person’s sexual preference or gender identity.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, said she wants to see any kind of abuse, both physically or emotionally, stopped.

“As a person of faith it upsets me deeply,” Dow said.

Still, Dow, who owns and operates two child care facilities, raised concerns about children trying to figure out their own identities. She posed a hypothetical situation of a child who wants a “traditional relationship” but is “attracted to men and women.”

“The youth that I work with are very fluid in their sexuality,” Dow said.

In response, Canderia said his bill would still allow conversations about attraction and identity.

“Those kinds of processes can occur,” Candelaria said.

The only other Republican to comment on the bill, Rep. James Townsend of Artesia, raised concerns about the legality of the bill. Candelaria assured Townsend that federal courts have already set precedent and the bill would not violate any person’s rights.

Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, did not make any comments or ask questions about the bill and appeared to take a phone call, leaving the room just before the vote.

The committee voted 4-2 to send the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, the last stop before the House floor.

The bill already passed the Senate on a wide, bipartisan vote last month.