Massachusetts inched closer this week to passing two historic LGBTQ rights bills.
One piece of legislation, known as H. 4664, would ban anti-gay conversion therapy from being performed on minors, while the other would allow trans people to list a gender-neutral marker on identification. Both proposals passed with overwhelming majorities within 24 hours of each other and await further debate in the Massachusetts Legislature before becoming law.
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts House approved H. 4664 in a decisive 137-14 vote that largely fell along party lines. Just one Democrat, Rep. James Dwyer of Woburn, voted against the bill.
The legislation forbids licensed medical practitioners from providing any treatment to LGBTQ people under the age of 18 “that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited 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.”
H. 4664 does not apply to queer and trans adults or unlicensed religious counselors, like a priest, rabbi, or youth group leader.
Opponents of conversion therapy compared it to torture.
Rep. Kay Khan said orientation change efforts, which have been condemned by every leading U.S. medical association, can be “emotionally and psychologically traumatizing” for LGBTQ youth.
“There’s a broad consensus in the medical community that attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity through conversion therapy are unnecessary, ineffective and harmful,” the Newton Democrat, who served as the bill’s sponsor, told colleagues during debate.
Fellow Democrat Rep. Jack Lewis called the practice “barbaric.”
The handful of opponents in the House, however, felt that passing the bill would curtail free speech among medical professionals, conservatives, and those opposed to LGBTQ rights. Rep. James Lyons, an Andover Republican, said it enforces “penalties for what some on the left don’t want to hear.”
“I think this is a dangerous road to go down,” Lyons said during debate.
Leading advocacy groups, though, have urged Massachusetts to become the 14th state to pass statewide legislation banning conversion therapy, following New England states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
“No child should be subjected to this abusive practice,” said Human Rights Campaign National Field Director Marty Rouse in a press release, which noted the bill’s bipartisan support in the Massachusetts House. “Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on these critically important protections for Massachusetts’ LGBTQ youth.”
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts Senate, where it is likely to be embraced by the overwhelmingly blue chamber. Thirty-four of its 40 seats are held by Democrats.
Although Gov. Charlie Baker is a Republican, he is known as a moderate conservative with a long history of backing pro-equality legislation. In a statement, his spokesperson pledged Baker would “carefully review any legislation that reaches the [his] desk” but declined to state unequivocal support for H. 4664.
That legislation, however, will be just one of a pair of bills Baker is likely to weigh in on this year.
On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate voted with near-unanimous accord to pass a law allowing for the designation of a third gender marker on all identification. Rather than just the dual options of “M” and “F,” trans and nonbinary people will have the opportunity to list an “X” on driver’s licenses and state IDs.
In addition, the proposal would bar officials at the DMV from asking for a doctor’s note or a court order before updating an individual’s identification to match their lived gender identity and presentation.
During a Thursday press conference, bill sponsor Sen. Karen Spilka said trans people deserve to live “the way they feel most comfortable.”
“For those who do not fit neatly into the traditional categories of ’male’ or ’female,’ a non-binary option is a simple way to ensure their ID matches their true lived gender identity,” the Democratic Senator claimed.
An estimated 25 to 35 percent of trans individuals identify outside the gender binary.
If passed, Massachusetts would become one of at least four states in the U.S. to allow transgender people to list a third option on state IDs, following California, Maine, and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia. Although Washington State is often reported to have done the same, it has not at this time.