A proposed ban on so-called conversion therapy in Utah is in danger of being derailed after the influential Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints came out Tuesday night in opposition, just months after it said it wouldn't stand in the way of a similar measure under consideration.
The church said in a statement that the regulatory rule prohibiting Utah psychologists from engaging in the discredited practice with LGBTQ minors would fail to safeguard religious beliefs and doesn't account for "important realities of gender identity in the development of children."
State regulators crafted the rule at the request of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, a member of the church, who in June asked for a set of rules after a similar bill died in the Legislature despite the church not taking a position.
The church's statement strikes a blow to the hopes of LGBTQ advocates hoping Utah could join 18 states that have enacted laws banning or restricting the practice opposed by the American Psychological Association.
Justin Utley, a former member of the faith who says he was sent through harmful "conversion therapy" by the church's therapy services years ago, called the church's position disheartening.
"It's a fear tactic, and it's a control tactic," said Utley, now 42, who attempted suicide after his sessions. "They have once again interjected themselves in a discussion that they have no business being involved in. This is about mental health, it's not about getting an exemption for mistreating people."
The faith widely known as the Mormon church accounts for nearly two-thirds of the state's residents, and nearly every state lawmaker. It's unknown how the church's position will impact the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing's pending decision. The agency has said the rule could go into effect as early as next week.
The division didn't immediately respond to inquiries Wednesday.
Troy Williams, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah, said he is surprised by the church's stance since the rule was already revised to align with the failed legislation. His group is reaching out the church to see if more changes could be made to address its concerns while keeping the substance intact.
The church said it denounces any "abusive" treatment and that it "hopes that those who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria find compassion and understanding from family members."
The opposition comes after one of the religion's top leaders, Dallin H. Oaks, said this month that a person's gender assigned at birth is "essential to the plan of salvation" and that they don't know "why same-sex attraction and confusion about sexual identity occur."
His remarks were reminiscent of a time in the 1970s when church scholars say the faith taught that homosexuality could be "cured." The church has since said homosexuality is not a sin, though it remains opposed to same-sex marriage and intimacy.
At the public hearing last month, opponents of the proposal argued the rule would prevent parents from getting help for their children with "unwanted" homosexual feelings or even from talking about sexuality.
The president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, Gayle Ruzicka, is against the proposed ban and cheered the church's announcement. She contended that children don't need "therapy that affirms whatever they're thinking they are at that time."
The ban had widespread support, however, among people who submitted written comments, with about 85% in favor as of late September.
Nathan Dalley, 20, has also spoken out against his "therapy" sessions aimed at changing his sexual orientation as well as his posture, walk and gestures.
He said the experience led to a suicide attempt at age 16. "It takes all these insecurities you have about yourself ... and convinces you they're accurate," he said Wednesday.
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