A measure to prohibit health professionals from practicing "gay conversation therapy'' on minors cleared the Maryland Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate voted 34-12 for the bill, which now goes to the House. The measure would classify the practice as unprofessional conduct and subject providers to discipline by the state licensing board.
Supporters of the bill say the practice is widely discredited by medical and mental-health associations. They contend the measure would protect youths from depression and anxiety by preventing them from being forced into such treatment.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, an openly gay lawmaker who is running for governor, said forcing youths to seek counseling to make someone else happy is "a recipe for disaster, for depression, for anxiety and for suicide in all too many cases.'' He also noted that states around the country already have banned the practice.
"All that's occurred is we've taken small steps to make sure that young people aren't subjected to a treatment that the medical profession across the board has said is completely unacceptable and flawed,'' Madaleno, a Democrat, said.
Opponents of the measure say it is too broad and would ban a single conversation with a licensed professional. They also say it would force young people who want counseling to seek guidance from people who aren't licensed.
"The licensed counselor, for fear of losing their license, would have to say something like this: `No, I can't help you navigate on your journey that you chose to change your lifestyle, but you might want to try Joe the plumber who goes to your church and see if he can help you. He doesn't know diddley about counseling, but he really has a kind heart,''' said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, a Republican. "These are real people needing real help.''
Nine other states and Washington, D.C., ban the practice.