A federal appeals court has put the brakes on a first-of-its-kind California law that bans therapy aimed at turning gay minors straight.
A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency order on Friday, putting the law on hold until the court can hear full arguments on the measure's constitutionality.
The law was set to take effect January 1.
Licensed counselors who practice so-called "reparative therapy" and two families who say their teenage sons have benefited from it sought the injunction after a lower court judge refused the request.
The law, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown this fall, states that therapists and counselors who use "sexual orientation change efforts" on clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards.
The appeals court's order prevents the state from enforcing the law, SB1172, while a different three-judge panel considers if the measure violates the First Amendment rights of therapists and parents.
Liberty Counsel President Mathew Staver, whose Christian legal aide group is representing reparative therapy practitioners and recipients in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, applauded the court's decision to grant his request to delay its implementation.
"This law is politically motivated to interfere with counselors and clients. Liberty Counsel is thankful that the 9th Circuit blocked the law from going into effect," Staver said.
Backers of the ban say the state is obligated to outlaw reparative therapy because the practice puts young people at risk and has been rejected by every mainstream mental health association.
The law points out that minors who "experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation" are 8.4 times more likely report having attempted suicide.
After signing SB1172, the governor called the therapies it would outlaw "quackery" that "have no basis in
science or medicine."
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which helped fight for the law's passage, said the measure's supporters shouldn't read too much into Friday's order.
"It's disappointing because there shouldn't even be a temporary delay of this law, but this is completely irrelevant to the final outcome," Minter said.
The brief order issued Friday did not explain the panel's thinking. The 9th Circuit has requested briefs on the case's broader constitutional issues but has not scheduled arguments.
Earlier this month, two federal trial judges in California arrived at opposite conclusions on whether the law violates the Constitution.
On December 4, US District Judge Kimberly Mueller refused to block the law after concluding that the plaintiffs represented by Staver were unlikely to prove the ban on "conversion" therapy unfairly tramples on their civil rights and should therefore be overturned.
Mueller's decision came half a day after US District Judge William Shubb handed down a somewhat competing ruling in a separate lawsuit filed by a psychiatrist, a licensed counselor and a former patient who is studying to practice gay conversion therapy.
Shubb said he found the First Amendment issues presented by the ban to be compelling. He ordered the state to temporarily exempt the three people named in the case before him.