COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The city council in Columbia, South Carolina, has banned licensed therapists from offering conversion therapy to minors in attempts to change their sexual orientations or gender identities.
News outlets reported that the body passed the ordinance Tuesday in a 4-3 vote. Columbia is the first city in the state to ban the practice, Jeff March, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group SC Pride, told The Post and Courier.
Local officials in the state’s capital and second-largest city said they received hundreds of messages supporting or opposing the measure after it unanimously passed the council on a first vote May 4.
Eleven of the 14 community members who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting opposed the ban, according to The State. Some said it would affect their First Amendment rights and religious freedoms. Council member Howard Duvall said the ordinance doesn’t interfere with pastor-resident conversations.
“Most of the pastors in South Carolina are not licensed practitioners,” Duvall said. “The practice of conversion therapy has been shown to be a terrible practice on young adults.”
The ordinance will prevent licensed therapists and counselors from providing what’s known as conversion therapy to individuals under the age of 18 within city limits. Violations will constitute a civil penalty and carry a $500 fine.
The council passed a separate resolution Tuesday in support of statewide legislation that would prohibit conversion therapy for minors. It passed 6-1 but doesn’t carry the force of law. Council member Daniel Rickenmann, a mayoral candidate, cast the sole dissenting vote. He also voted against the Columbia ban.
“I believe this is a family choice, and we need to allow the families to make those decisions,” Rickenmann said.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have prohibited conversion therapy for minors to date, according to news outlets. Dozens of cities and counties across the U.S. have also opposed it. The second-largest county in Kentucky banned it in May.
In 2019, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit that challenged Maryland’s ban on conversion therapy for minors. But a federal appeals court in November blocked the enforcement of local bans in Florida, siding with two therapists who said their free speech rights were violated.
Republican state Sen. Josh Kimbrell asked South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to block the Columbia ordinance last month. He also introduced a bill before the General Assembly adjourned that he said would override the ban. It can’t be considered until the 2022 session starts in January.