A federal judge is expected to produce a ruling by the end of the week on Tampa’s controversial ban of “conversion therapy” which was designed to get children with same-sex attractions to become straight.

The city passed the therapy ban in 2017 but this was challenged in the courts by the Liberty Counsel.

Mat Staver with Liberty Counsel said the Tampa ban has a number of problems, starting with violating the First Amendment.

“It really injects the government into the privacy of a counseling room and tells the counselor what is permissible to say and the client what they can ultimately hear and see,” Staver said. “So that is a problem that obviously implicates the First Amendment.”

Liberty Council got a preliminary injunction against the ban. Now a federal judge has listened to arguments to permanently strike down the counseling ban.

Staver said it is not constitutional for the city of Tampa to get involved.

“There is no other place in counseling or even outside of counseling where the government seeks to regulate one side and force a specific message to the exclusion of a contrary message,” he said.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, has advocated for this type of conversion counseling to be banned in several places, insisting it just does not work.

“Every mainstream medical and mental health organization including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all debunked the practice of conversion therapy as fraudulent, ineffective,” Smith said. “It is actually much worse than just being ineffective. It is dangerous, and it inflicts immeasurable harm.”

Smith asserted conversion therapy can be deadly.

“They use physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities,” Smith said. “It actually increases the likelihood that a child will become depressed, will engage in substance abuse, or even kill themselves.”

Liberty Counsel insisted this is not about conversion therapy at all, telling Florida Daily “licensed counselors have to abide by licensing standards which do not allow for this kind of ‘treatment.'”

Staver focused on what a restriction of this type of counseling will mean. He compared the counselor to a traffic cop or a navigation system, simply trying to guide their client. Staver warned that bans like the Tampa one stop these counselors from doing their jobs.

“In this particular area, the counselor cannot help the client reach their objective to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, unwanted behavior, or gender confusion. In fact, to the contrary, the counselor has to force them to accept something they do not want,” Staver said.

The next battleground on conversion therapy might be Orange County where thousands, including Smith, have signed a petition to ban the practice there.

“It’s incumbent upon our leaders to have the courage to enact this ban which is legally sound,” Smith told Florida Daily.

As Staver awaits the outcome in federal court in the Tampa case, he’s preparing to take the fight to Orange County, opposing any proposed bans there.

“It is simply politically based to advance an agenda that has no basis in science or reality,” he said, adding that he believes his side is poised for a big win.

“The city of Orlando, Orange County, or any other city or county in Florida ought to be very cautious because to do that,” Staver said. “We will file suit and it will be very costly. It’ll be very costly. It’s not a matter of if the US Supreme Court will overturn these counseling bans nationwide. It is just a matter of when.”

UPDATE: On Friday, federal Judge William Jung issued an order granting summary judgment to Liberty Counsel in its challenge to the ordinance.

“There is no grant of authority by the Florida Legislature to municipalities to substantively regulation healthcare treatment and discipline,” Jung ruled.

“The City has never before substantively regulated and disciplined the practice of medicine, psychotherapy, or mental health treatment within City limits. Nor does the City possess charter or home rule authority to do so. The City Ordinance is preempted by the comprehensive Florida regulatory scheme for healthcare regulation and discipline. Accordingly, the Court strikes the Ordinance under the implied preemption doctrine and grants the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on Count VI,” Jung added.

Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.



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