By Mary Slosson
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - A bill that would ban a therapy that aims to reverse homosexuality in children and teens passed California's Senate on Wednesday, moving the state a step closer to becoming the first in the nation to ban the controversial treatment.
The 23-13 vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate marked a major victory for gay rights advocates who say the therapy has no medical basis because homosexuality is not a disorder, and that it can cause depression and lead to substance abuse and suicide.
The bill still needs to be passed by the state Assembly and signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown before it can become law. It is expected to be taken up by the Assembly, also controlled by Democrats, within a month.
"These therapies are dangerous," Senator Ted Lieu, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said on the Senate floor before the vote, citing the case of Ryan Kendall, an outspoken advocate of gay rights who underwent such therapy as a child.
"(Ryan) was told that being gay made God cry," Lieu said. "He testified that for 10 years of his life, he wanted to commit suicide. He has not done that and now he is speaking out against this type of therapy."
The Pan American Health Organization, a division of the World Health Organization, said earlier this month that therapy claiming to "cure" people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lacked medical justification and represented "a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people."
Equality California, a civil rights group that co-sponsored the bill, welcomed its passage.
"Too many young people have taken their own lives or suffered lifelong harm after being told, falsely, by a therapist or counselor that who they are is wrong, sick or the result of personal or moral failure," Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California Board President, said in a statement.
A group opposed to the bill, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, said such therapy could help those who "struggle with unwanted homosexuality" and hoped the California legislature would think twice about a ban.
The group said in a statement it was concerned the bill "transfers the oversight of proper psychological care from mental health professionals and licensing boards into the hands of politicians."
(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)