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An ordinance banning conversion therapy to get new language, but West Lafayette Mayor still plans veto

Mayor John Dennis at a council meeting on the conversion therapy ban in December (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

New language is expected for a proposed West Lafayette ordinance banning conversion therapy — but the city’s mayor said he is still planning a veto.

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation through various interventions. Numerous medical institutions, including the American Psychiatric Association, have deemed the therapy ineffective and potentially harmful.

Enforcement under the city ordinance is reserved for “unlicensed persons”, who would incur a $1,000 fine for engaging in conversion therapy with a minor. The ordinance defines an unlicensed person as someone who provides counseling or psychotherapy but is not licensed through the state of Indiana.

The ordinance received pushback from religious groups because of its focus on penalties for “unlicensed therapists” — which could include religious counselors. Mayor John Dennis told the council in December that he would veto the ordinance over his concerns that it was unenforceable.

Born Perfect, a national advocacy group opposed to conversion therapy, said that bans on the practice for “unlicensed therapists” are on shaky legal footing.

Of the existing bans on conversion therapy, most have focused on “licensed therapists.” Co-founder of Born Perfect Mathew Shurka said that is because of strong laws protecting religious freedom that leave bans on “unlicensed therapists” open to easy challenges.

The group also said internal tracking shows large numbers of therapists associated with performing conversion therapy in the Greater Lafayette region.

Proposed changes to the ordinance would include urging the state legislature to pass a ban specific to “licensed therapists” — and more specific language around enforcement outlining “complaints” of physical or psychological harm due to conversion therapy from either a minor, parent or guardian.

Regardless of the changes, Mayor John Dennis said he still plans a veto, even though he is personally opposed to conversion therapy.

“But the part of me that is mayor, the part of me that has to stand behind legislation and be in a position to defend it in the event that we are challenged, specifically as it relates to faith-based organizations? No. I think we’re out of our lane,” he said.

Dennis said he believes the city needs to take a cautious approach towards the issue.

“We have never been afraid to confront divisive issues in the city of West Lafayette and have considered ourselves to be a progressive community, and we’re pretty proud of that,” he said. “But there are some things that require a little bit more thought and a little bit more preparation.”

The ordinance is expected to be brought up for a vote at next week’s city council meeting.