The Florida bans were challenged by two licensed therapists who counsel minors with “unwanted same-sex attractions or unwanted gender identity issues,” said the 11th Circuit’s ruling, issued Friday. The therapists believe their speech-based therapy can help clients to reduce their same-sex behavior and attraction.
The city and county argued that the bans safeguard the physical and psychological well-being of minors and submitted reports and studies setting out the harms.
But Judge Britt Grant, writing for the majority, cited a 2009 report from the American Psychological Association that found there had been a complete lack of “rigorous recent prospective research” on the practice.
Former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant now sits on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
“This decision allows speech that many find concerning — even dangerous,” wrote Grant, joined by Barbara Lagoa, a fellow appointee of President Donald Trump.
“But consider the alternative,” Grant said. “If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the City Council deemed that message harmful.”
Grant wrote, “We understand and appreciate that the therapy is highly controversial. But the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech.”
Judge Beverly Martin/ Macon Telegraph
Credit: Bill Rankin
Credit: Bill Rankin
In dissent, Judge Beverly Martin, a President Barack Obama appointee, said the city and county had a compelling interest in protecting minors from a harmful medical practice. And she cited “a mountain of rigorous evidence” that conversion therapy is dangerous and can cause depression and suicidal thoughts.
“The scientific and medical communities have done their jobs, the state has done its job and now it is time for us to do our job in the simple application of the law,” Martin wrote.
American Psychological Association president Sandra Shullman voiced grave concern over the ruling. “The scientific research since 2009 has greatly increased the evidence that participants in such efforts believe they were harmful,” she said.