The City Council is moving to repeal a ban on conversion therapy to avoid fallout from a pending lawsuit that advocates and lawmakers fear could curtail LGBT protections across the country.
Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, will introduce a bill Thursday overturning a law passed in 2017 that banned all forms of LGBT conversion therapy.
The repeal comes after an anti-LGBT Christian group, Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban this past January.
Advocates worried that the case could reach the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court – and that a negative decision on the Council’s measure could negatively affect other laws protecting the LGBT community.
“This was a painful decision that was made after leading LGBTQ advocates requested that the Council take this drastic step,” Johnson (D-Manhattan) said in a statement. “The sad reality is the courts have changed considerably over the last few years, and we cannot count on them to rule in favor of much-needed protections for the LGBTQ community. To be clear, all of us still believe this alleged ‘therapy’ is barbaric and inhumane, but repealing this law seemed to be the best path forward.”
Johnson said that LGBT minors living in New York would still be protected against conversion therapy under a separate state law banning the practice that was passed after the Council approved its own measure.
“I can’t stress enough how agonizing of a decision this was, but ultimately I listened to the advocates who know the issue best, as well as my heart,” Johnson said.
The Council’s law, which went into effect last year, was seen as more vulnerable to a court challenge because it was broader than others in effect, including the statewide ban.
Mathew Shurka of Born Perfect, which fights conversion therapy, said the city’s law was a “unicorn” that isn’t necessary anymore given the state ban. Repealing the measure allows him and other advocates to focus less on defending the law in court and more on expanding protections against conversion therapy in other states.
“Our goal is to minimize the lawsuits and focus on the laws,” said Shurka, who was sent to orientation conversion therapy after coming out as gay when he was 16. “If we felt uncertainty about the state law we wouldn’t push for this.”
An attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Council’s repeal effort proves its lawsuit had merit.
“Our view is the law presents a textbook cases of censorship,” said Rodger Brooks, a senior counsel with the alliance who argued the preliminary injunction in the case. “They’re afraid the law would be held unconstitutional.”