LDS Church opposes proposed Utah rule that would ban ‘conversion therapy’

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tuesday opposed a proposed rule that would ban Utah-licensed mental health professionals from using conversion therapy — such as trying to turn a gay child straight or alter a minor’s gender identity.

“The church is concerned that the proposed professional licensing rule is ambiguous in key areas and overreaches in others,” it said in a news release. Its objections came on the final day for public comment on the rule.

“We therefore oppose the proposed rule in its current form and respectfully request that it be appropriately amended” to address the church concerns, the news release said. Alternatively, it asked “that Utah’s lawmakers provide statutory guidance on this important issue.”

That comes as the state’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing is considering the matter and had an emotional three-hour hearing on it last month.

The proposed rule change was crafted at the behest of Gov. Gary Herbert, who said he has “concerns about some of the abuse that I’ve heard talked about.”

LGBTQ advocates earlier this year had hoped to add Utah to the list of 18 states that ban conversion therapy. They built a coalition of mental health representatives and nonprofit leaders, negotiated a ban that the LDS Church could live with and enlisted two GOP lawmakers to sponsor the legislation in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

But the plans fell apart after a coordinated attack by right-wing groups contending that the bill would have silenced therapists. With the legislative approach hitting a wall, Herbert asked state regulators to step in by crafting rules based on peer-reviewed scientific research.

In its news release Tuesday, the church stated that the proposed rule “fails to protect individual religious beliefs and does not account for important realities of gender identity in the development of children.”

It said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family Services, which offers mental health and other counseling, submitted a more formal statement to state officials outlining its concerns.

The news release also states that the church believes that LGBTQ people deserve compassion and understanding.

“The church hopes that those who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria find compassion and understanding from family members, church leaders and members and professional counselors. The church denounces any abusive professional practice or treatment,” it said.

“We teach the right of individuals to self-determination and the right of parents to guide the development of their children,” the statement said. “We also believe faith-based perspectives have an important and ethically appropriate role in professional counseling.”

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said the church’s statement “is profoundly disappointing.”

“The proposed rule would do nothing more than protect LGBTQ children from conversion therapy — a life-threatening practice that has been condemned by all of the state’s and the nation’s medical and mental health authorities," he said. "Studies have found that more than 60% of children subjected to conversion therapy attempt suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Utah’s children, and LGBTQ youth are especially vulnerable. It’s long past time to protect our state’s youth by prohibiting this dangerous practice.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Eagle Forum of Utah, praised the church’s stance.

“We have opposed the ban on conversion therapy since it was introduced in the House,” she said. “This is the licensing board going around the Legislature behind its back and taking away therapists’ rights.”

She added, “Parents have a right to take their minor children to a therapist and get real honest therapy from that therapist, not muffled conversation only affirming the child’s concerns. I mean that’s just wrong."

Anna Lehnardt, spokeswoman for Herbert, said his office had no statement regarding the church’s comment on the proposed rule.

But she said, “We are grateful to everyone who has submitted or will submit comment as part of this public process. Public comment is extremely important. Utah’s Department of Commerce will weigh the evidence and comments and make determinations regarding the rule based on best available information and science.”