Utah won’t say how many support ‘conversion therapy’ ban

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gayle Ruzicka, political activist and leader of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, left, waits her turn to speak as Lisa Tensmeyer, director of Clinical Services at Flourish Counseling, speaks in support of a proposed ban on conversion therapy during a public hearing before state regulators in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.

A week after The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints opposed a ban on so-called conversion therapy in Utah, regulators considering the proposal refused Monday to release how much public support it got.

A decision on whether to adopt the ban statewide could come as early as Tuesday or take up to four months, said Jennifer Bolton, spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce, Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

Eighteen states have banned or restricted the discredited practice of using therapy to change a LGBTQ person's sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association says the practice is not based in science and is harmful to mental health.

The faith widely known as the Mormon church submitted its opposition to the ban in Utah shortly before the public comment period ended last week, surprising and disappointing advocates who had been heartened when the church said it would not stand in the way of a similar proposal months ago.

[Read more: LDS Church says proposed ‘conversion’ ban would silence therapists, but its motives are under fire]

The Utah-based church said the proposed regulatory rule prohibiting psychologists from engaging in "conversion therapy" would fail to safeguard religious beliefs and doesn't account for "important realities of gender identity in the development of children."

A department staff member said nearly four weeks ago at a public hearing that about 85% of the 1,300 comments submitted at that time supported the ban. In an email Monday, Bolton said no final tally would be released based on nearly 2,500 public comments. She didn't explain why.

Taryn Atkin-Hiatt, a supporter of the ban and director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Utah chapter, said she was told by a department staffer who oversaw the public comment period that support grew to 94%. The staffer she said she spoke with, Larry Marx, declined to comment Monday.

Hiatt said she hopes a decision is made as soon as possible to protect young people.

"I'm trying to remain hopeful that DOPL will listen to the experts and come down on the side of science," Hyatt said.

State regulators crafted the rule at the request of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, a member of the church, who in June asked for a set of rules after a similar bill died in the Legislature, though leaders of the faith said they would not stand in the way.

The church accounts for nearly two-thirds of the state's residents and nearly every state lawmaker.

Decades ago, the church taught that homosexuality could be "cured." Leaders have since said it's not a sin, but the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage and intimacy.

The proposed rule has drawn opposition from right-wing groups who argue it would prevent parents from getting help for their children with “unwanted” gay feelings or even from talking about sexuality.