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Therapist Sues Over Washington State LGBTQ Conversion Therapy Ban

May 24, 2021

A lawsuit filed earlier this month by a licensed therapist in Washington seeks to overturn the state’s ban on sexual orientation counseling for minors, a practice described by critics as “conversion therapy.” 

In the lawsuit, licensed marriage and family therapist Brian Tingley contends that Washington Senate Bill 5722 constitutes a “denial of free speech rights” that is guaranteed by the First Amendment. 

The lawsuit argues that restricting “the practice of conversion therapy” is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment due to vagueness.

The law was signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018.

The legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which is devoted to defending First Amendment rights, represents Tingley in his legal proceedings. 

Tingley is a Christian who says his “faith informs his views concerning human nature, healthy relationships, and what paths and ways of thinking will enable his clients to achieve comfort with themselves and live happy and satisfied lives.”

Washington’s law regulates “the professional conduct of licensed health care providers with respect to performing conversion therapy on patients under age eighteen” by classifying the performance of such therapy as “unprofessional conduct” for a “license holder.”

Tingley’s lawsuit characterizes the ban as the “Counseling Censorship Law,” maintaining that the measure “seeks to impose uniformity and silence dissent on topics about which both clients and counselors hold differing views motivated by ideology, faith beliefs, and differing interpretations of science.”

Additionally, he argues the state of Washington of seeking “to impose its own new orthodoxy concerning sexual morality, human nature, personal identity, and free will.” 

The law defines “conversion therapy” as “a regime that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity” and applies to efforts to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

Attorneys for Tingley believe the law’s definition of “conversion therapy” is “vague, content-biased, and biased against one perspective or point of view.”

Washington’s law reports to carve out an exception for religious practices or counseling offered by churches. But ADF attorneys say the exemption is a “sham” because it does not apply to practicing Christian counselors like the plaintiff who wish to “help fellow Christians who seek his assistance to live consistently with the teachings of their shared faith.”

Therapists who violate Washington’s ban risk incurring a series of punishments, including “substantial fines, suspension from practice, and even loss of … license and livelihood,” ADF contends.

Whether Tingley can succeed in overturning the law in Washington’s liberal courts remains an open question. But last year, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled bans on “conversion therapy” in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton, Florida, unconstitutional.

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