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Gay "conversion therapy" proponents seek to halt California ban

By Mary Slosson

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - A Christian legal group urged a federal judge on Friday to halt a landmark California law that bars a controversial therapy aimed at reversing homosexuality from being used on children and teenagers, calling the law a violation of privacy and free speech.

California's Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed the ban into law in September, making the nation's most populous state the first to ban so-called conversion therapy among youths. Gay rights advocates say the therapy can psychologically harm gay and lesbian youths.

"What we have here is the state coming into the doctor-patient, client-counselor relationship and saying that you can only present one viewpoint," attorney Mathew Staver, the dean of the evangelical Liberty University law school, told the court in seeking an injunction to halt the law pending legal challenges.

He was arguing on behalf of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as unnamed individuals who sued shortly after the law was signed.

The law, due to go into effect on January 1, bars therapists from performing sexual-orientation change counseling with children and teenagers under 18 and was supported by the California Psychological Association among other groups.

Passage of the law marked a major victory for gay rights advocates who say the treatment, also called reparative therapy, has no medical basis because homosexuality is not a disorder.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case argue that the law violates constitutionally protected rights to free speech and freedom of religion, and denies the rights of parents to choose how to raise their children.

Attorneys for the state were joined by lawyers from Equality California, which was a sponsor of the bill, in arguing that there is substantial evidence that the practice causes harm to those who undergo it.

The judge in the case, Kimberly Mueller, expressed concern during the hearing that banning licensed practitioners from offering the therapy would only drive parents to seek out the treatment from "unlicensed quacks" or out-of-state providers.

She said she was likely to rule next week in the case, filed against Brown and other state officials. Another similar suit seeking a separate injunction against the law will be argued in federal court on Monday.

(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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