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Mormon Church Opposes Utah Conversion Therapy Ban

State moves to prohibit the practice among minors after legislative effort fails

A Mormon temple is seen perched on a hill in Manti, Utah
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Citing concerns about religious liberty, the Mormon Church announced its opposition to a Utah Department of Commerce proposal that would ban the practice on minors in the state.

“The Church is concerned that the proposed professional licensing rule is ambiguous in key areas and overreaches in others,” the Mormon Church announced in a written statement on October 15. “For example, it fails to protect individual religious beliefs and does not account for important realities of gender identity in the development of children.”

The Church’s explicit rejection of the proposal comes just months after it did not oppose a bill in Utah’s State Legislature that would have banned conversion therapy.

That bill did not pass, but Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, asked the Department of Commerce and the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to propose a rule change implementing the ban.

In the proposal, the Utah Psychologist Licensing Board called conversion therapy on minors “unprofessi­onal,” stating that “it is our conclusion that practices intended to change sexual orientation or gender identity are not demonstrated to be effective, and are associated with harm and the risk of harm...”

The Mormon Church explained its opposition to the proposal by citing concerns raised by its family services division, which delivered a letter to the Utah Department of Commerce saying the rule “fails to account for important realities of gender identity development in children; it would undermine the right of clients to self-determination and the right of parents to guide the development of their children; and it ignores the important and ethically appropriate role of faith-based perspectives in counseling.”

The Church nonetheless indicated a willingness to support the rule change if it is “appropriat­ely amended to address the concerns raised” in the comments “or that Utah’s lawmakers provide statutory guidance on this important issue.” It is not clear what exactly would need to change in order to satisfy the Church’s requests.

Equality Utah, which works to advance LGBTQ rights in the state, criticized the Mormon Church’s position.

“The only way to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy is to stop conversion therapy in all of its forms,” Equality Utah’s executive director, Troy Williams, told Gay City News in a written statement. “The simple truth is that young people subjected to this faux practice are at greater risk of suicide.”

Youth suicide has gripped Utah, which boasts the largest population of Mormons in the nation. The state saw a 141 percent rise in suicides from 2011 to 2015 among youth between the ages of 10 and 17. Nevada, another state with a significant Mormon population, saw 27 youth suicides in 2018. Many have pointed to the Church’s stubborn positions on LGBTQ rights as a contributing factor in youth suicides in those states.

Brian Bresee, a Las Vegas man whose 14-year-old son died from suicide in 2014, attributed his son’s death to the anti-LGBTQ culture and teachings of the Mormon Church. He stressed that many people feel as if they become trapped in the Church’s culture.

“When you find out that who you are is not in line with Church teachings, you can’t just get up and leave and find another Church,” he said during an interview with Gay City News in August.

Those alarming numbers have brought a heightened sense of urgency to the issue in Utah, especially in light of the damaging effects of conversion therapy. Equality Utah has framed the new proposal as a matter of life and death.

“Governor Herbert has repeatedly stated that science must prevail over politics,” Williams said. “We concur with that assessment and will do everything in our power to protect our youth from this life-threatening practice.”

The new proposal is slated to go into effect on October 22, according to KSL Broadcasting in Salt Lake City.

A spokesperson for Affirmation, an LGBTQ group for Mormons, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Updated 6:22 pm, October 17, 2019
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