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Rep. Sally Kern's 'conversion therapy' bill adopted by Oklahoma House committee
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Rep. Sally Kern's 'conversion therapy' bill adopted by Oklahoma House committee

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AUDIO: Listen to the Committee meeting for Sally Kern’s HB1598 for conversion therapy.


OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill guaranteeing the right of parents to seek therapy for “same-sex attraction” for their minor children cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives Committee on Children, Youth and Family Services on Tuesday.

House Bill 1598 author Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, turned aside a question about whether such therapies might “push” young people toward self-destructive behavior.

“In our schools, in our movies, the kids are being pushed in the direction that they’re born homosexual and they can’t change,” Kern said. “This bill will allow children who are struggling with these feelings … to go and have some counseling to get both sides of the issue to find out why they’re struggling with this.”

Kern agreed that nothing currently in state law prevents parents from sending their children to such counseling, but she said HB 1598 is a “pre-emptive” measure against legislation banning so-called “conversion therapy.”

Critics of such therapy say it is ineffective and potentially harmful. At least 12 major professional organizations, including the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association, have warned against conversion therapy, which is also known as reparative therapy.

“This legislation is an unprecedented and dangerous blank check to abuse the children of Oklahoma,” said state American Civil Liberties Executive Director Ryan Kiesel. “If the entire House even considers this bill, they will be sending a message to the entire world that the Oklahoma House of Representatives is more interested in making a political point than it is in protecting the children of Oklahoma.”

The practice is endorsed in some religious communities, and much of Tuesday’s discussion involved religious objections to nonheterosexual relationships.

Significantly altered from its original language, HB 1598 says no state or local government may “prohibit or restrict” counseling for “self-determined objectives of reducing, eliminating, resolving, or addressing unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, identity, or sexual and/or gender-identity expressions.”

The bill specifically excludes “aversion therapy,” including electroshock and, as amended in committee, touch therapy, pornography therapy and vomit-inducing therapy, from acceptable treatments covered by the proposed law.

Another amendment, by Rep. J.P. Jordan, R-Yukon, removed pastors and youth pastors from the list of recognized mental-health providers.

Republicans Jordan, Kern, Jason Nelson, Tom Newell and Pam Peterson voted for the bill.

Republican Pat Ownbey and Democrats George Young and Ben Sherrer voted against it.

Hours after the vote on Kern’s bill, a separate committee advanced legislation its author said is intended to protect small businesses that do not want to provide services for marriages to which the business-owner objects on religious grounds.

HB 1371, by Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Jenks, says no state or local government could intervene if such services were denied in Oklahoma. Strohm acknowledged that the provision could apply to any marriage, not just those between members of the same sex.

But, said Strohm, “we’re not seeing lawsuits from interracial couples. We’re not seeing lawsuits from Jewish-Muslim couples. We are seeing lawsuits that are the result of homosexual couples who are suing because of … business owners’ deeply held religious beliefs.”

Although some such lawsuits have been brought in recent years, all are in states whose public accommodation laws protect sexual orientation against discrimination.

According to a Feb. 3 article on the website FindLaw, businesses cannot be sued for discrimination in states such as Oklahoma that do not include sexual orientation in their public accommodation statutes.

HB 1371 passed the House Judiciary and Civil Procedure Committee 7-3 along party lines.

Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365

randy.krehbiel@tulsaworld.com

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