Independence City Council rejects conversion therapy ban: 'It's too broad'

By Mike Genet
The Examiner
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The Independence City Council narrowly turned down an ordinance to prohibit conversion therapy of minors, as some council members said the proposed ordinance was too broad or lacked defined enforcement. 

The ordinance, which had been requested by the city’s Human Relations Commission, failed by a 4-3 vote. 

“It’s too broad,” Council Member Karen DeLuccie said before the vote, later adding the ordinance refers to any treatment, which could include counseling. 

Conversion therapy, often aimed at minors, is done with the stated intent of changing a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The proposed Independence ordinance noted that the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychology has found it lacks scientific validity and can harm young people by contributing to depression and risks for self-harm and suicide. 

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Independence would have joined Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia, among other cities, with a similar ban.

It’s possible a reworded ordinance could pass if brought up, DeLuccie acknowledged, but she questioned the need. 

“What they’re trying to do is already illegal,” she said, referring to forced-treatment methods. 

Council Members Brice Stewart, Mike Huff and Mike Steinmeyer joined DeLuccie in voting no. Mayor Eileen Weir and Council Members John Perkins and Dan Hobart voted yes. DeLuccie and Hobart are practicing attorneys. 

Stewart asked City Attorney Mitch Langford why the prohibition referred to just providers who received compensation. Langford said he modeled the ordinance after those in cities that previously passed a ban, and two of them specifically mention money.  

“At some point, you get into the charitable and religious overtones,” Langford said, which could raise First Amendment issues. If a provider gives treatment for money, he said, that likely would nullify a First Amendment argument. 

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“This practice has been debunked or discredited,” Stewart said. “I would think if somebody was licensed, they would already face consequences” from a licensing group. 

Stewart said forms of supposed treatment such as electrical shock therapy or showing pornography would already be considered illegal under state or federal law, making a city ordinance unnecessary. Blue Spring also has been asked to pass a ban, and Stewart mentioned the recent comments of Mayor Carson Ross, who also said cities lack the ability to enforce such an ordinance. 

Weir said after the vote that she doesn’t buy the lack-of-enforcement argument. 

“All of our laws, we expect our citizens to voluntarily comply with them,” Weir said, and if they don’t, then laws have to be place for something to even be reported and investigated, much less prosecuted. 

“When the law’s not on the books,” she said, “we can’t do anything to compel people to comply with them.”