March 16, 2017

Conversion therapy ban clears New Mexico House

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque

After a contentious, hours-long debate, the state House of Representatives voted by a wide margin for a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors — the widely discredited practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation.

The measure cleared the House late Wednesday on a 44-23 vote. Nine Republicans joined 35 Democrats in backing it. Only one Democrat, Rep. Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque, sided with a bloc of mostly rural Republicans who opposed the initiative.

That group of Republicans dragged debate on the measure deep into the night, raising concerns that it would trample freedom of religion and suggesting that homosexuality is a choice or even a mental illness.

Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said conversion therapy could be the path to heterosexuality for certain young people.

“If some are willing and wanting to change, why should the state take away their right to get help?” Gallegos said.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. G. Andres Romero, D-Albuquerque, countered that the ban on conversion therapy would protect young people from a harmful pseudoscience.

“Homosexuality is not a mental disorder,” Romero said.

Therapists who use conversion therapy would be in danger of losing their license under the measure, Senate Bill 121, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria.

With two days remaining in the legislative session, the proposal heads back to the Senate. If senators approve amendments that were made by House committees, the bill will advance to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration.

Committee hearings on the bill stirred some of the most emotional testimony of the legislative session, as ordinary people told of the torment and shame that came from sessions with therapists who tried to repress their sexuality.

The bill defines conversion therapy as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity…” But the legislation would permit “mental health services that facilitate a person’s coping, social support, sexual orientation or gender identity exploration or development.”

The debate ended up revealing a divide not just between the GOP and Democrats but between old school Republicans and the party’s younger members, particularly those from urban areas.

House Republicans who voted for Candelaria’s bill were Reps. Nate Gentry, Monica Youngblood, Sarah Maestas Barnes, Jim Dines and David Adkins, all of Albuquerque; and Reps. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences; Zach Cook of Ruidoso; and Jim Smith of Sandia Park.

If the bill becomes law, New Mexico would be one of six states and two Canadian provinces that have similar policies in place, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee’s staff.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.