After losing court battles over the constitutionality of local ordinances that ban conversion therapy, a gay-rights group – the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council – is asking Palm Beach County and Boca Raton to repeal their bans on the practice.
The group is not seeking the repeal because they changed their view on “conversion therapy,” but rather the group does not want the Palm County ordinances to be the vehicle by which the U.S. Supreme can rule on the issue.
“Conversion therapy” is the practice in which therapists provide treatment or counseling to minors who are considering a change in sexual orientation or gender identity. Critics of such therapy say it harms LGBTQ youths.
The request comes just after the Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo recommended that social, medical and surgical transitioning treatment for gender dysphoria not be provided to children and adolescents.
Rand Hoch, the founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, said in a statement last week that he was asking for the county and the city to drop their litigation, because the plaintiffs’ attorneys “clearly want to have this issue heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as possible.”
“With the current make-up of the Court, that is not advisable,” Hoch said. “[The Human Rights Council] does not want to jeopardize the existing conversion therapy bans. Therefore, we are asking the county and the city of Boca Raton to repeal their ordinances … . By repealing the ordinances, the legal issue before the District Court will be moot and the litigation will end.”
A federal appeals court recently refused to reconsider a decision that struck down the local bans on “conversion therapy.”
In 2017, Palm Beach County and Boca Raton enacted bans that prohibited “conversion therapy.”
A federal appeals court in 2020, in a 2-1 decision, sided with two therapists who said the laws in the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County violated their free speech rights.
Circuit Judge Britt Grant said that while enjoining the laws “allows speech that many find concerning – even dangerous,” the First Amendment “does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender.”
Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request by the county and city for a rehearing, granting a victory for marriage and family therapists Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, who challenged ordinances.
Liberty Counsel, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision “a huge victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice and be free of political censorship from government ideologues. This case is the beginning of the end of similar unconstitutional counseling bans around the country. Under the laws that were struck down, a counselor could encourage a client to take life-altering hormone drugs or even undergo invasive surgery to remove healthy body parts but could not help a client who seeks to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior, or confusion. Clients have the right to self-determination. They have the right to select a counselor.”
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Steve Stewart is a senior contributor at The Florida Capital Star.