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California won’t advance gay conversion therapy ban in 2018

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SACRAMENTO — A California lawmaker said Friday he is ending his effort this year to pass a bill declaring gay conversion therapy a fraudulent practice.

The announcement comes on the final day of the legislative session as lawmakers scrambled to pass dozens of bills addressing everything from the internet to smoking at state beaches.

Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low of Campbell said he authored the bill because conversion therapy has been proven ineffective and harmful. His measure would have banned selling or advertising sexual orientation therapy as a way to change someone’s sexual orientation.

But Low said he needs more time as he tries to craft a national model that could be copied in other state legislatures.

The bill had passed both the Senate and Assembly and was awaiting a final Assembly vote to send it to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Low said he has had productive conversations with opponents, some of whom say lawmakers shouldn’t limit therapy choices and others fighting the proposal on religious grounds at emotion-charged legislative hearings.

Low, who heads the Assembly’s LGBT caucus, said the bill does not harm freedom of speech or religion because it applies only to commercial practices or financial transactions. A 2012 law limited the practice for minors but Low’s bill would have expanded the ban to adults.

Jonathan Keller, president of California Family Council, a faith-based group helped organize opposition by local, state, and national organizations and individuals, called Low’s decision an answer to opponents’ prayers, saying the measure “would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation.”

Other opponents said they had been prepared to sue to block the bill, arguing that it would have jeopardized the free exercise of religion and religious free speech.

The bill was intensely personal to Low as a gay man who, until laws were recently changed, could officiate at weddings but not have one of his own, or host blood drives without giving blood himself because of a federal ban on gay blood donors.

“As a young person I often found myself confused about my sexual orientation,” he wrote. “This left me feeling very lost, scared, alone, and even suicidal. ... Many fellow members of the LGBT community are not as fortunate and do not have the support I did and have been subjected to the harmful and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy.

He said he will continue working to pass legislation next year “that best protects and celebrates the identities of LGBT Californians and a model for the nation to look towards.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers sent dozens of bills to Gov. Jerry Brown including measures:

— Giving California the nation’s strongest protections for net neutrality rules intended to ensure a level playing field on the internet.

— Requiring that all new sexual assault evidence kits be submitted to a lab within 20 days and tested within 120 days.

— Banning smoking in picnic areas on state beaches and parks.

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