A bill banning therapy practices for minors that use shame, pain or coercion in an effort to discourage same-sex attraction and alter a person’s sexual orientation has cleared a key legislative committee.

But the bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, along with an alternative to it, face additional votes in the House and Senate.

Supporters of the ban say so-called “conversion therapy” does more harm than good and that a person’s sexual orientation isn’t something that needs to be fixed anyway.

But opponents of the measure say it could quash parental rights as well as the ability for state-licensed, faith-based counselors to practice without fear of breaking the law.

Although the bill won majority support this week from the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, Fecteau, the House chairman, said he was disappointed by divisions on the committee.

Although only two committee members voted against the bill, they offered a competing measure as a minority report that removes language protecting minors from verbal abuse offered as “talk therapy” if it was in an effort to change a client’s sexual orientation.

Fecteau said the minority report still bans the practice of conversion therapy, focusing largely on physical methods, including electroshock therapy and ice baths, but leaves room for possible verbal abuse.

Both measures provide exemptions for clergy-based counselors, although Fecteau’s version only allows faith-based counselors to assist clients in understanding their sexual orientation and doesn’t allow counselors to try and change it.

“I’m disappointed we landed where we did,” Fecteau said, “because it seemed to me that members of the committee truly wanted to do something to prevent harm to children, but also not take away Christian counselors’ – who are licensed by the state – ability to help a child understand who they are with appeals to their faith and spirituality.”

NINE OTHER STATES WITH BANS

Republicans on the committee largely sided with the Christian Civic League of Maine, which asked for the less-stringent version of the ban to be passed into law.

“Parents and their children should be able to pursue help and therapy in accordance to their values,” Carrol Conley, the league’s director, told lawmakers in public testimony on the bill.

“I wish I could express how utterly flabbergasted people are when I discuss (the bill),” Conley said. “The thought that the government would prohibit a parent and their child seeking to find a licensed professional to discuss a minor’s gender confusion or unwanted same-sex attraction from a faith perspective is Orwellian.”

Dozens of people both supporting and opposing the ban turned out to testify on the measure in February.

It’s not clear whether conversion therapy is now being practiced in Maine, but if passed into law, Maine would join nine other states with similar bans. Oregon’s legislature recently passed a similar bill, which is expected to be signed by that state’s governor, Fecteau said.

SPONSOR OPTIMISTIC ABOUT BILL

Another 19 states are considering conversion therapy legislation in 2018. A similar bill passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives in a 179-171 vote this year, reversing an earlier vote to reject the ban, the Associated Press reported. Other New England states that have passed laws banning the widely discredited therapy include Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island.

If Fecteau’s bill passes the Democrat-controlled House, it will face additional scrutiny in the Republican-controlled Senate and a possible veto by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. As a matter of course, LePage typically does not comment on bills before they reach his desk. LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

But Fecteau is optimistic that LePage may allow the bill to pass into law without his signature, considering that Republican governors in four other states have signed similar measures.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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