Supreme Court Considers Challenge to Washington State’s Conversion Therapy Ban

Legal Judge Discussion Over Paperwork Desk Gavel Scales of Justice
Legal Judge Discussion Over Paperwork Desk Gavel Scales of Justice

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering hearing a challenge to Washington state’s ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ minors, as reported by Truthout. The case, Tingley v. Ferguson, brought forth by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization labeled as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, highlights the ongoing legal battles surrounding conversion therapy in the United States.

Brian Tingley, a licensed marriage and family counselor, is the plaintiff in this case, asserting that the ban on conversion therapy infringes on his rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion as a Christian therapist.

Tingley’s legal representation by ADF follows a recent controversial ruling by the Supreme Court in the case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which, despite lacking standing, signaled a nod towards discrimination previously deemed unacceptable, Katherine Franke, a law professor and the director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia University, told Time.

The district court in the Western District of Washington and later the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Washington’s ban on conversion therapy in 2021 and September 2022, respectively. The rulings emphasized the constitutional authority of states to enact laws protecting minors from the harms of conversion therapy administered by licensed therapists. This stance garnered support from the American Psychological Association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Ninth Circuit highlighting the dangers of conversion therapy.

Tingley petitioned for a rehearing by a larger panel of judges in the Ninth Circuit, which was denied. In March, he urged the Supreme Court to review the case. Although the court has yet to act on the petition, legal experts are closely monitoring the case, with concerns that conservative justices may be inclined to hear such a case, aligning with ADF’s broader agenda of leveraging free speech and religious liberty rights to challenge reasonable government regulations enacted in the public interest.

“I do worry that the more conservative members of the court will be more than open to taking this kind of case, independent of the circuit split because it’s the next step in what is the ADF’s agenda, which is to have free speech and religious liberty rights basically become a mechanism by which to supersede any reasonable government regulation that is enacted in the public’s interest,” Franke told The New Republic.

The Tingley case comes at a time when advocacy against conversion therapy is gathering steam, highlighted by the recent formation of the United States Joint Statement (USJS), a coalition aimed at eradicating conversion therapy.

However, Tingley’s challenge to Washington’s ban threatens to undo progress in a state that has taken steps to protect LGBTQ+ minors from such harmful practices.

Conversion therapy has long been condemned for its severe psychological and emotional consequences on individuals, particularly minors. The practice, aiming to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, has faced widespread condemnation, leading to a coalition of influential mental health and medical organizations advocating for its eradication.