On Thursday, Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill barring licensed therapists from attempting to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Illinois is the fifth American jurisdiction to ban the thoroughly discredited, grotesquely harmful practice, after California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. Every court to consider these laws has held that they do not run afoul of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has twice refused to review such rulings.
Illinois’ new measure is especially interesting in light of a New Jersey jury’s recent decision that ex-gay conversion therapy constitutes consumer fraud and unconscionable business practice. The Illinois bill builds on this idea. In addition to barring conversion therapy itself, the law forbids licensed therapists from claiming that homosexuality is “a mental disease, disorder, or illness” in advertisements. Any therapist who violates this provision will run afoul of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, opening himself up to state sanctions and private civil suits.
Crucially, the Illinois law, like the four before it, deals exclusively with licensed therapists—that is, those who are approved by the state to treat patients. The most severe penalty for any therapist who continues to perform conversion therapy is “discipline by the licensing entity or disciplinary review board.” Nobody will go to jail for performing conversion “therapy” on minors; at worst, they’ll lose their livelihood. And, of course, family members and religious figures can continue to torture young minds with this sadistic abuse. The state can regulate professional therapy, but it can’t control what goes on in homes and churches. That, for better or for worse, is the price we pay for the First Amendment.