Maine Governor LePage Vetoes Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy, Cites Religious Liberty

Governor Paul LePage
Maine Governor Paul LePage introduces U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Bangor, Maine, June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill Friday that would have banned gay conversion therapy, the controversial practice to change a person's sexual orientation, because it was "bad public policy" and was a "threat to an individual's religious liberty."

"Parents have the right to seek counsel and treatment for their children from professionals who do not oppose the parents' own religious beliefs." LePage said in a veto statement. "We should not prohibit professionals from providing their expertise to those who seek it for their own personal and basic questions such as, 'How do I deal with these feelings I am experiencing?'"

LePage said there was no evidence presented that conversion therapy is currently being practiced in the state and said the bill would prevent therapists from having conversations with those who seek advice about their feelings.

Thirteen states plus D.C. currently ban the practice, with four of those bans signed into law by Republican governors. The United Kingdom announced Tuesday that it also planned to ban the practice.

A 2018 UCLA study estimated that more than 75,000 LGBT youth will receive conversion therapy from licensed professionals, religious leaders or spiritual advisers before they turn 18 years old in the states that do not ban the practice. Although talk therapy is now typically used, past methods of conversion therapy have included "inducing nausea, vomiting or paralysis and providing electric shocks."

LePage said at no time should conversion therapy become physical or abusive.

"However, as this is written … [it] can call into question a simple conversation," he said.

Democratic state representative Ryan Fecteau, who authored the bill, told Newsweek it was "ludicrous" the governor thought it would prevent an LGBT person from simply having a conversation with therapists about their sexuality and showed a lack of understanding for the bill.

"I think becoming the first governor in the country to veto such legislation speaks volume about where he places the LGBT community in terms of respect and making sure LGBT youth are protected from a practice that has been proven to harm children more than it provides any sort of assistance," Fecteau said, who added that the measure was passed with bipartisan support.

The state legislature will vote Monday in an effort to override LePage's veto, but Fecteau said it was unlikely they would have enough votes.