OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Legislation that would protect the practice of therapy that seeks to change people's sexual orientation or gender identity in Oklahoma was approved by a state House committee Tuesday.
As other states ban or consider prohibiting so-called conversion therapy, Oklahoma's Children, Youth and Family Services Committee approved the bill 5-3 without debate and sent it to the full House. The measure will likely face a tougher audience there, as medical, psychological and sociological professional organizations that have condemned the practice mobilize their opposition to it.
Opponents say the bill is the first of its kind in the U.S.
California and New Jersey have passed measures to ban some conversion therapy, which can involve prayer, psychological counseling or a range of practices designed to eliminate or reduce same-sex attractions, and similar bills have been filed in other states.
The author of the Oklahoma bill said it's intended to head off any efforts to ban conversion therapy in the state. Rep. Sally Kern, a Republican from Oklahoma City who chairs the committee, said it is aimed at protecting parental rights.
"There is a movement across the country to ban parents from having the right to take their children in for therapy for same-sex attractions," said Kern, an opponent of same-sex marriage who in 2008 described homosexuality as a greater threat to the United States than terrorism.
She said sexual orientation change therapy is practiced across the nation in spite of efforts to ban it.
Lawmakers who voted against the bill questioned why it was needed.
"I have the right to take my children in to seek any type of therapy that I want," said Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, who voted against the measure.
The measure says parents may obtain counseling or therapy for children under 18 without interference by the state. An amendment approved by the committee removed pastor and youth minister from the list of mental health providers authorized to provide the therapy.
"Several states have embarked on banning conversion therapies because of the harmful — and often brutal and inhumane — tactics utilized," Mary Jo Kinzie, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said in a statement released before the committee's meeting.
Kern said the bill specifically bans electric shock, ice baths and other potentially harmful forms of therapy.
Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, said the measure "protects the child abuser, rather than the child."
"We have a duty to protect young people, and should never be in the business of creating new avenues for victimization," Stevenson said in a statement.
No opponents spoke against the measure during the hearing. Two people spoke in support of it, including Stephen Black, executive director of First Stone Ministries in Oklahoma City, which Black said offers pastoral care to people searching for freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.