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Ban on gay conversion therapy clears NH Senate

State House Bureau

April 19. 2018 9:06PM

CONCORD — Opponents of gay conversion therapy have been trying to get the practice banned in New Hampshire since 2016, and on Thursday moved one step closer to their goal.

The state Senate voted 14-10 in support of a House-passed bill, HB 587, which bans the practice of attempting to change a juvenile’s sexual orientation or gender identity from gay to straight through psychological or spiritual intervention.

The Senate amended the bill slightly, which will require more negotiations with the House. If the bill survives negotiations in a House-Senate conference committee, it will go to Gov. Chris Sununu for his consideration.

Sununu has said he is opposed to gay conversion therapy and likely to sign a bill if it gets to his desk.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue again and again,” said Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield. “The confusion has been designed to make this bill unsuccessful, and we have to recognize this is something we need to do. This practice is backward, barbaric and aimed to scare the gay away. We need to call it what it is and move forward.”

A proposed Senate amendment exempting “talk therapy or religious counseling” from the ban was defeated, and the bill was passed in a way that more closely mirrors the House-passed version.

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, described the bill as unfairly one-sided.

“I don’t see anything in this bill that prohibits encouraging conversion to a gay lifestyle,” he said. “There is nothing in this bill that is fair. It is all pushing in one direction. There is conversion therapy that goes the other way. We have allowed a certain segment to define conversion.”

The issue has been the focus of heated debate in the Legislature for the past three years. Both chambers passed competing bills banning gay conversion therapy in 2016, but could not resolve their differences and the bill died in conference committee.

A bill to ban the practice passed the Senate again in 2017, but failed in the House despite a positive committee vote.

A new bill (HB 587) was introduced in January of this year, and failed by one vote after Republican House Speaker Gene Chandler cast the tie-breaker.

House rules allow the matter to be reconsidered if a representative on the prevailing side asks for another vote. Eight-term Rep. Henry Parkhurst, D-Winchester, who voted with the winning side, filed such a request.

In February, his motion to reconsider the bill was approved, and this time HB 587 passed the House with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in a 179-171 vote.

Sobriety checkpoints

The Senate also defeated a House bill that would have banned sobriety checkpoints.

HB 1283 passed the House on a voice vote in February, but the bill came under heavy criticism from law enforcement and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Senate hearings.

Opponents argued that the random searches, approved by a court, are a waste of law enforcement resources, with only 1 percent of all stops resulting in any arrest or prosecution. They also argued the roadblocks violate constitutional prohibitions against search and seizure without probable cause.

“This is a very simple bill,” said Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin. “Either you believe requiring probable cause is a good protection for the citizens of the state or you don’t.”

Supporters like Sen. Sharon Carson said the roadblocks serve as a deterrent, even if they don’t result in many arrests.

“It may be less than one percent,” she said, “but how many lives were saved. That’s what we have to think of.”

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