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Lawmakers push for sexual orientation therapy ban

Against the backdrop of Florida's first legal same-sex marriages earlier this week, two lawmakers have introduced a bill to curb therapies aimed at changing the sexual orientation of children.

"This kind of therapy is more harmful to a child than doing nothing," said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, Florida's first openly gay legislator. "It's a conversation we need to have in the state of Florida."

The bills (H.B. 83 and S.B. 204), introduced by Richardson and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, apply specifically to state-licensed, therapists, social workers and psychologists. Professionals who try to change the sexual orientation of someone younger than 18 would face disciplinary proceedings from the state.

Church leaders would be exempted from the change. So would conversations with licensed therapists based on sexuality questions, as long as there isn't an attempt to change the sexuality of the child.

A similar bill introduced last year died in committee.

John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said this bill reflects a minority viewpoint in the state of Florida and that it represents an intrusion into private relationships between therapists and their clients.

"What business is it of gay rights activists is it to put their noses into the middle of that relationship?" he said. "This was about changing the entire society so there's no diversity at all in opinion related to sexuality except that of gay rights activists."

A ban on these therapies is in the interest of children, Clemens said, because of mental health effects that have been documented in the past.

"I think we can all agree that therapy that damages the psyche of children is a poor idea," he said. "And there are better ways of dealing with the reality that your family member or teenager is gay."

This proposed legislation is the latest story in a marquee week for LGBT rights activists in Florida. Tuesday morning, counties across the state started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a federal judge ruled Florida's ban unconstitutional.

Through it all, the state's Republican leadership has been largely quiet. Pressed for answers by reporters Tuesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was happy for the newly married couples but that it was her job to defend the constitution, which voters amended to ban same-sex marriage in 2008.

Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this post.