The Anchorage Assembly on Wednesday passed a ban on “conversion therapy,” making illegal the practice of trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The practice has been widely condemned by medical professionals and counselors.
The move drew criticism from some religious institutions and groups as well as some parents who felt the ban infringed on parental and religious rights.
The ordinance passed 9-2 with Assemblywomen Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard opposing.
The ban only pertains to licensed professionals, and specifically excludes clergy acting in a religious capacity and not as mental health professionals. It also excludes parents and others who are not licensed in provide counseling. The new law imposes a $500 fine on anyone who performs conversion therapy for each day they are in violation.
“One day, this practice will be banned throughout the United States,” Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said. “And then one day, we are going to look back and we’re going to wonder why this was ever a debate, and why this practice was ever allowed,”
A public hearing, which started Tuesday and spilled into a continuation of the meeting Wednesday, garnered testimony from about 65 people. Testifiers argued both sides, though a majority opposed the ordinance. Some said a ban on conversion therapy violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Similar bans have been passed in 20 states and at least 70 cities, including a measure passed in Utah in January. Federal courts have also dismissed challenges to those bans.
Following a little more than an hour of public testimony Wednesday, the Assembly deliberated for about four hours, fielding several amendments, including eight from Kennedy.
Nearly all amendments failed, and in the end the only changes to the original ordinance were to clarify its intent.
Prior to the vote, Kennedy voiced her opposition to the ordinance.
“I tried my best to make this a little more well-rounded because I think one of the problems with this piece of legislation is that it is one-sided,” Kennedy said. “It really only serves to protect those who want to support and promote homosexuality and gender change.”
During testimony and debate, there were comments about how the sponsors — Austin Quinn-Davidson, Chris Constant and Rivera — are gay, and some commenters said they brought the ordinance to further an agenda. Some associated being in the LGBTQ community with having a mental illness.
“We’re people. We’re real people,” Quinn-Davidson said. “When you say those things to us, it doesn’t hurt, because it’s wrong and we’re used to it. But it’s sad.”
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