AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Friday to prohibit state-licensed counselors and therapists from engaging in “conversion therapy” aimed at changing an underage client’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill would allow the state to deny or revoke a professional license to medical or mental health professionals who engage in conversion therapy of minors. The bill defines conversion therapy as “any practice or course of treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including, but not limited to, any effort to change gender expression or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

Supporters say the legislation is necessary to prevent practices that they contend can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, depression and social anxiety that can, in turn, lead to more severe impacts, such as suicidal thoughts.

In his veto message, LePage called the bill “bad public policy” because the broad definition could prevent professionals from answering clients’ questions or having conversations with them.

“This bill attempts to regulate professionals who already have a defined scope of practice and standard of care per their statutory licensing requirements,” LePage wrote. “I strongly agree that young people should not be physically or mentally abused if they come out to their parents or guardians because they have experienced sexual or romantic attraction to an individual of the same gender. However, as it is written – ‘any practice or course of treatment’ – can call into question a simple conversation.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, countered that it was “ludicrous” for LePage to suggest that the bill would prevent counselors from talking about sexuality with a client.


“It is not at all what this bill is about,” said Fecteau, who during the emotion-filled House debate shared his own personal experiences of a trusted university adviser encouraging him to read a book on conversion therapy. Instead, Fecteau said, the bill is merely trying to halt a practice that has been delegitimized by psychiatric and medical associations around the world and has been banned in more than a dozen states.

“It’s disappointing,” Fecteau said. “I certainly disagree with the governor on many issues, but I thought this would be one where we could find some common ground and he could join the six Republican governors and seven Democratic governors across the country who have signed a similar law.”

Supporters will have to pick up additional votes to make Fecteau’s bill law, however. Neither the 19-12 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate nor the 80-55 vote in the House last month would be sufficient to override LePage’s veto.

In his letter, LePage also sought to equate the conversion therapy bill with the entirely separate but also highly emotional issue of female genital mutilation.

LePage and other Republican lawmakers have been pushing hard for a bill to specifically outlaw the cultural practice in Maine, even though it is already prohibited under federal law. Their proposals would also prevent parents or guardians from taking their girls to another state or country to have FGM performed.

There is no evidence that FGM is happening in Maine, although doctors and hospital staff occasionally encounter immigrant women suffering from long-lasting health effects of being cut – often by people with no medical training – while they were young girls in another country. Opponents of the bill insist the federal prohibition makes a state law unnecessary and, instead, accuse Republicans of trying to score political points against Democrats while using the issue to demonize immigrants from African countries where the practice is prevalent.


LePage sought to draw a correlation between Fecteau’s bill and his FGM legislation.

“Legislators who could not stand up and outlaw the permanent mutilation of young girls’ sexual organs by laypersons in unsanitary conditions with razor blades are now concerned with outlawing conversations, of which there is also ‘no evidence’ that it is happening in Maine,” LePage wrote. “This is a disgusting double-standard.”

But Fecteau said the two issues are completely separate.

“The governor failed to recognize the federal prohibition against FGM,” said Fecteau, who joined most Democrats in voting against the governor’s bill. “There is no federal prohibition on conversion therapy. And if there was one, this wouldn’t be a topic of a bill here in Maine.”

The conversion therapy was one of six bills vetoed by LePage on Friday, on top of 36 others he vetoed earlier in the week. Other bills vetoed Friday include:

Two measures to change Maine’s complicated medical marijuana regulatory structure. Among the changes sought by the legislation was to allow doctors to certify patients for medical marijuana usage for any reason.


A proposal to provide additional state funding to operate county jails. LePage has been battling with the Legislature and county officials for years over funding for and oversight of county jails.

The Legislature is expected to return Monday to consider LePage’s most recent vetoes.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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