LDS Church defends its objections to proposed ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is defending its objections to a proposed rule banning conversion therapy on LGBTQ children.

"The Church opposes conversion therapy and our therapists don't practice it," Marty Stephens, the faith's government and community relations director, said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13.

The Church's Family Services arm raised objections to the proposed rule on the day public comment ended, filing a 26-page document with Utah's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. Stephens said the rule stripped out protections that were in a bill that failed to pass the legislature earlier this year.

"The concern we have with the rule is it took all the protections away from religious organizations, from parents and grandparents, that were in the bill," Stephens said. "If those were put back in the Church would be generally happy with the rule."

The Latter-day Saint church said it did not oppose HB399 when it was introduced earlier this year. The bill failed to pass when more conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill modified it to the point its own sponsor could not support it anymore. That sparked protests from LGBTQ youth who had gone through conversion therapy (including some who said they went through church-backed therapists) and a rare apology from Governor Gary Herbert, who then directed Utah's Department of Commerce to craft an administrative rule to enact a conversion therapy ban.

In a statement earlier this week, HB399's sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, said he supported the administrative rule and believes it is "substantially similar" to his original legislation.

The Utah Department of Commerce has said it is evaluating all the public comment for the proposed rule. It could modify it, but agency director Francine Giani has told FOX 13 she was not planning to send it back to the boards that drafted and approved it. While commerce officials would not release a breakdown of numbers, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Utah chapter said it was told by state licensing officials that of the 2,457 comments submitted -- 94% favored the conversion therapy ban and 6% opposed.

"Some may say the Church is grasping at straws, who's going to after a parent for talking to their child?" Stephens said. "If that's the case, put the protections in the rule."

The issue seems to put the Church in opposition to the governor, who is also a member of the faith. Stephens told FOX 13 they would not rule out going to the Utah State Legislature to have the rule modified, should it go into effect.

"I'm hopeful that they'll make those changes. If they don't, I'm guessing this thing won't be settled until the legislature," he said.

He reiterated the Church opposes conversion therapy and therapists used by its Family Services do not practice it, nor have they for "many years." (Brigham Young University also practiced electroshock treatment on homosexuals in the 1970s.) LGBTQ rights groups have pushed for a ban to help combat Utah's youth suicide epidemic.

Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said he was hopeful the rule would go into effect.

"We are grateful to the Board of Psychologists for drafting a rule that effectively protects LGBTQ youth from the harmful practice of conversion therapy. We have reached out to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss their concerns, and will always engage in open dialogue with them around these difficult issues," he wrote in a text message. "We are confident that the rule, as drafted, will reduce suicide, which is the leading cause of death among young people in our state."

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