AUGUSTA — A bill that would prohibit state-licensed counselors and therapists from engaging in “conversion therapy” to change an underage client’s sexual orientation or gender identity is headed to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate on a 19-12 vote without debate Tuesday after the Democratic-controlled House voted 80-55 last week to enact the bill. The bill inspired emotional testimony during public hearings and sparked heated debate that highlighted the lingering cultural divide in the State House over sexual orientation and religion.

While supporters cheered the bill’s passage, neither margin is large enough to override a potential veto from the governor, who has yet to take a public position on the issue.

The bill, L.D. 912, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, would allow the state to deny or revoke a professional license to medical or mental health professionals who engage in “conversion therapy” of minors. The bill defines conversion therapy as “any practice or course of treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including, but not limited to, any effort to change gender expression or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

Religious officials, such as priests or rabbis, would be exempt from the prohibition unless they were paid for the therapy sessions.

Thirteen other states have passed similar laws prohibiting conversion therapy.

“Government’s greatest responsibility is to protect its most vulnerable citizens, especially minors who may not be able to protect themselves,” Rep. Matt Moonen, a Portland Democrat who serves as executive director of EqualityMaine, said in statement. “We thank the bill’s many supporters in both the House and Senate for stepping up to support all youth in our state, and we urge Governor LePage to send a clear message to our young people that their government doesn’t view them as broken and values them exactly as they are.”

LePage has 10 days to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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