FILE - This Oct. 4, 2019, file photo, shows the Salt Lake Temple at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposing a proposed ban on conversion therapy in Utah, just months after it said it wouldn't stand in the way of a similar rule under consideration. The church said in a statement posted Tuesday night, Oct. 15, 2019, that the regulatory rule prohibiting Utah psychologists from engaging in LBGTQ conversion therapy with minors would fail to safeguard "religious beliefs" and doesn't account for "important realities of gender identity in the development of children." (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Mormon church opposes Utah LGBTQ conversion therapy ban

October 16, 2019 - 2:22 pm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A proposed conversion therapy ban 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 LBGTQ conversion therapy with 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 conversion therapy that's opposed by the American Psychological Association.

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.

"We do not treat gender dysphoria with conversion therapy, that is dangerous and unethical," said Williams, pointing to research linking "identity conversion efforts" to increased odds of suicide attempts among transgender adults.

"We stand by the governor's call to rely on science over politics," he said.

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. Most of the opponents came from conservative-based groups.

A parade of LGBTQ people urged the board to adopt the rule.

Nathan Dalley, 20, said he grew up a member of the faith and went through conversion therapy shortly after he turned 16. He said he was told to snap a rubber band on his wrist every time he felt attracted to men, and a therapist also scrutinized his posture, his walk, his gestures and interests. The experience deepened his feelings of depression and culminated in a suicide attempt.

"It takes all these insecurities you have about yourself ... and convinces you they're accurate," he said Wednesday. He said church leaders haven't followed through on their position of neutrality.

"When it comes down to it, I'm just kind of tired," said Dalley, who's now a student at the University of Utah.

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