Palm Beach County: No vote on gay-related ‘therapy’ until more review

6:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 Local

Palm Beach County commissioners will not tackle a proposed ban on the controversial gay-related “conversion therapy” at Tuesday’s meeting, after the county’s attorney said she needs to do more study on how the proposed directive would do against what’s already been promised to be a legal challenge.

On June 20, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which fights discrimination, especially against lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgenders, asked commissioners in Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach to ban “conversion therapy.” Later, the Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group, said any such ban would be unconstitutional and the group could sue to block it.

Advocates of “conversion therapy,” some of whom say the term is misleading and unfair, argue it’s a legitimate way to help people, usually teenagers, rid themselves of “unwanted same-sex attractions.” Rights groups say it’s forced brainwashing that doesn’t work and harms people who didn’t seek conversion.

In July, county attorney Denise Nieman said she needed to study the issue before the commission could bring it to a meeting for discussion. She told The Palm Beach Post she hoped to have an opinion by Aug. 5 about whether a ban would survive a constitutional challenge. She did say that “there’s a number of areas of concern we have.”

On Tuesday, Nieman told Human Rights Council founder and president Rand Hoch in an email that she still was working on her analysis and now hoped to have it done the week of Aug. 22, too late for the upcoming Tuesday county commission meeting. The panel’s next meeting after that isn’t until Sept. 13.

Hoch said Wednesday he didn’t mind the delay.

“This is something we want to have done right,” Hoch said. “We don’t want the county commission to go forward and have something be overturned.”

Hoch has said the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to similar bans.

In a letter to county commissioners, the Liberty Counsel said the county “has no authority to enact such an ordinance,” and even if it did, “any such ordinance would represent a blatant violation of the First Amendment’s most basic liberties.” The group said it is litigating several similar cases and has persuaded legislators in several states, including Florida, to reject state bans. Attempts in the Florida Legislature have stalled in committee.

Another group, the National Task Force for Therapy Equality, also wrote the county commission that “activists labeling this counseling ‘conversion therapy’ are using scare tactics to silence youth, and their families, that seek help for sexual and gender and identify conflicts.”

And commissioners heard from the South Florida Association of Christian Counselors, a group of 569 pastors, Christian leaders, and therapists and counselors. It said individuals with what it calls distressing and conflicting same-sex attractions “have the right to obtain professional assistance for living a life that is incongruent with their faith, values and goals.”

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