A federal judge last week struck down a Tampa, Fla., ordinance that prohibited conversion therapy for minors with unwanted same-sex desires, ruling it conflicts with state law and parental rights.
The Tampa ordinance banned conversion therapy for children and teens when it involves a licensed counselor. The goal of such therapy is to assist those who have unwanted desires related to gender expression or sexual orientation/attraction.
Counselors who violated the ordinance were subject to a $1,000 fine on first offense and $5,000 fines on subsequent offenses.
U.S. District Judge William F. Jung, in an Oct. 4 decision, chided the city for passing an ordinance that bans something even if an individual “desires to proceed.”
Jung cited the Florida Constitution, which reads, in part, “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.”
“Nothing is more intimate, more private, and more sensitive, than a growing young man or woman talking to a mental health therapist about sex, gender, preferences, and conflicting feelings,” wrote Jung, who was nominated by President Trump. “The Ordinance inserts the City’s code enforcers into the middle of this sensitive, intense and private moment.”
Jung said parental rights – “which the Florida Supreme Court has noted are fundamental and protected by the state constitution” – are “reduced” by the ordinance.
The ordinance also conflicts with informed consent, which he called a “bedrock principle of healthcare in a free society,” Jung wrote.
“The concept vindicates the individual’s right to make his or her own informed decision as to what health treatment he or she will undergo,” Jung wrote. “When the patient is denied the ability to exercise or even consider informed consent, the patient’s personal liberty suffers.”
Further, Jung wrote, the ordinance “creates a danger of conflict with the Legislature’s broad program for the healing arts” in Florida.
He cited a 2009 American Psychological Association task force report that concluded “no study to date has demonstrated adequate scientific rigor to provide a clear picture of the prevalence or frequency of either beneficial or harmful” results from conversion therapy.
The lawsuit was brought by Liberty Counsel, which represented marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and the Christian ministry, New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay.
Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said the decision could have a nationwide impact.
“This is a great victory for counselors and clients,” Staver said. “The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from helping their clients achieve their goals. … This ruling dooms every municipality in Florida and is the beginning of the end of more than 50 similar local laws around the country. This ruling also shows clearly why the other statewide laws will meet the same fate as Tampa. The First Amendment will wipe away every one of these speech-restrictive laws.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Delia Giandeini/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.