Limits on Government’s Ability to Define Your Life Only Go One Way


We could venture to guess that the great majority of Rhode Islanders (and Americans, for that matter) would not want government to force people into therapy to change their sexual orientation and would think it wrong for parents to be abusive in pressuring their children in that regard.  That agreement, however, is a long way from justifying government power to ban therapies, as it has done with “conversion therapy.”

I’ve already looked at some of the false reporting about the legislation that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has just signed into law.  I’d add a counter-factual point, too:  If legislators think this sort of therapy is prone to coercive entry and abusive methods, they could have created new regulations.  Instead, they went straight for a ban.

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Commentary from two of the legislators who put the ban forward proves that they did so out on emotional, ideological grounds.  I’ve contacted both for elaboration, but they haven’t responded.

Here’s Representative Edith Ajello (D, Providence), as Bill Tomison quotes her in a WPRI story:

“Sexual orientation, as well as gender identity, is widely recognized by science and medicine as simply innate to a person. It is no more a disease or a condition that needs to be changed than is race or eye color,” Rep. Ajello said at Tuesday’s signing.

A reader wouldn’t be going far out on a limb to guess that Representative Ajello would support policies like mandating insurance coverage for treatments to modify transgenders’ bodies or otherwise increasing access to such treatments, as by having public school teachers actively assist their students in deceiving their parents.  How, then, would Ajello reconcile treating physical bodies as a condition to be changed with her view that attempts to change emotional leanings or attractions should be blocked to the greatest extent possible?

Here’s Senator Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket, North Providence), as Katherine Gregg quotes her in the Providence Journal:

Added Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket: “Conversion therapy is based on the premise that there is something terribly wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and that we — somehow — need to be fixed. I am so proud that the Rhode Island legislature — and now our governor — are rejecting this premise,″ and instead “sending a message to young people and to their parents, that their sexual orientation and gender identity is just fine as it is … And that all of us are healthiest when we are living authentic and honest lives.”

On what grounds does Nesselbush believe it is the government’s role to tell people what it means to live “authentic and honest lives”?  By banning a form of therapy, she’s using government essentially to impose her beliefs on everybody in the state.  She’s insisting that feelings of discomfort with one’s own feelings of attraction to people of the same sex must be so “terribly wrong” that the government must actively work to prevent individuals from seeking to relieve their discomfort.

The application of “science and medicine,” as well as logic, is not easy to see with this advocacy, meaning that it seems entirely to be an arbitrary application of emotion and ideological imperative.  They see a person’s physical biology as an accident of birth that has no “innate” bearing on one’s attractions and, indeed, that can be “a condition that needs to be changed” based on psychological feelings, even of young children.  But feelings that those feelings are not one’s true self, they see as obviously wrong — as a sociological mechanism of suppression.

So extreme is their view, that their legislation seeks to isolate anybody who wants to explore a traditional belief about their own biology — even adults — from any kind of institutional support for that exploration.  That doesn’t seem either respectful of rights or compassionate.

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  • Rhett Hardwick

    “they could have created new regulations. Instead, they went straight for a ban.”
    “new regulations” require thought. A “ban” goes straight to the emotional heart of things. If you are seeking votes, which would you prefer?