Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on September 14, 2023.
Michigan’s conversion therapy ban is a solution in search of a problem
When Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed legislation that banned so-called conversion therapy, she said it was for the sake of children, but it wasn’t. Conversion therapy bans are a classic example of legislation that exists exclusively for the benefit of the politicians and interest groups who pass it.
First, we should clarify what we’re talking about. The governor’s press release announcing the new law describes conversion therapy as “any intervention that attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Notice the battle of language being waged here. “Conversion therapy,” in leftist vocabulary, happens when someone tries to stop a boy from cutting off his genitals. “Affirmation care” is what happens when someone removes healthy body parts. George Orwell would be proud of their ability to describe things exactly the opposite of how they are. But that’s just the beginning.
What Gov. Whitmer wants you to believe is that young people who otherwise would be abused no longer will be, but a broader view of the facts undermines that argument. The truth is, there is broad agreement that kids shouldn’t be disfigured in an attempt to change sexual desires. This legislation was completely unnecessary if the goal was to stop therapists from abusing children.
Also notable is the absence of stories of young people being abused by therapists in Michigan. The legislation was not named in honor of someone who bravely stepped forward to tell their story of abuse by a bigoted therapist. Gov. Whitmer’s press release did not mention rogue counselors whose abuse made the legislation necessary. If those stories existed, you can be sure they would be told because they fit the narrative. You weren’t told about them because they don’t exist.
For sexual revolutionaries, the idea of change is inherently offensive.
Nearly a decade ago, I worked on this issue in the Washington State legislature, one of the first states to consider a so-called conversion therapy ban. While the legislation eventually passed, proponents were unable to find a single complaint ever filed against a therapist for coercion or abuse related to same-sex attraction despite a history of thousands of complaints filed against therapists for other reasons. This doesn’t mean no one has ever done something unkind or unprofessional, only that it is—thankfully—exceedingly rare and getting rarer. The stories that exist are generally from the distant past, and all are covered by existing professional regulations and/or criminal law.
So why does this legislation exist?
First, proponents want to publicly smear those who don’t celebrate same-sex sexual behavior and don’t believe boys can become girls. By passing legislation protecting children from abuse by therapists, they imply that therapists are abusing children. The fact that there’s little to no evidence of this is irrelevant. You’ve framed your opponent in a politically helpful way.
But there’s something deeper as well. For sexual revolutionaries, the idea of change is inherently offensive. The sexual revolution is predicated on the belief that following your desires is always the path to happiness and that suppressing desires, even in the pursuit of greater desires, is proof that you are living inauthentically. Acknowledging that change is possible and that some people do change naturally leads to a conversation about whether someone should change. This is a conversation they are unwilling to have.
Think of it as an anti-proselytizing law. The sexual revolutionaries are so convinced they are correct that they believe it should be illegal to consider the possibility they are wrong. While this might be par for the course in a totalitarian state, that’s not how things should work in America. The fact that politicians don’t understand why someone would want to change is not a good reason for politicians to stop them from getting the kind of help they desire. Gretchen Witmer doesn’t want to hear it, but our kids deserve better.