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Eau Claire City Council: Conversion therapy ban vote set

LGBTQ advocates, faith community clash over city’s ability to regulate counseling for kids

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    Eau Claire City Hall on Aug. 5, 2016.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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A ban on using conversion therapy to change a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity in the city of Eau Claire is slated for a vote today by the City Council.

A Monday night public hearing on the proposed ordinance brought out people who spoke against conversion therapy, saying it is abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

“There is no cure for being LGBTQ because being LGBTQ is not a disease,” said Amy Peterson, an Eau Claire resident.

However, a few people from the local faith community said the ban would impede the rights of religious families.

Mark Nordtvedt, pastor at Eau Claire Wesleyan Church, said decisions for counseling children must be left up to the parents to decide.

“It’s not the state’s responsibility, it’s the parents’ responsibility,” he said.

Eau Claire County Board Chairman Nick Smiar, who has a background in social work and attended divinity school, disagreed.

“It’s not a violation of anyone’s freedom of religion,” he said, adding that the state has laws on child welfare. “Parents do not have absolute religious rights over their children.”

David Mortimer, a former county supervisor who has been a pastor and currently is an overseer at Jacob’s Well church, argued that the ordinance proposed by the city is poorly worded and should be reworked. He contended that it could stop adults with gender confusion from seeking even “talk therapy” from a counselor.

“I believe we have to make room for people who want that kind of counseling,” Mortimer said.

But Smiar rebuked Mortimer’s claim that the drafted ordinance is unclear and said it is explicitly worded to prevent children from being subjected to conversion therapy.

“The intent to introduce confusion into it is an attempt to obscure the issue,” Smiar said.

The County Board approved a resolution in August that urges state lawmakers and city officials to ban conversion therapy. Smiar explained that the county doesn’t have the legal authority to pass its own regulation of the practice, but it’s something that cities and states are able to control.

Pastor Lori Ruge-Jones of University Lutheran Church spoke Monday night that some of its wording maybe could be refined, but she supports the ordinance.

“I do believe conversion therapy is harmful to children, harmful to anybody who goes through that,” she said. “Homosexuality and transgender is not a problem to be solved — not medically or socially.”

The City Council will vote during its 4 p.m. meeting today in the boardroom at the county courthouse, 721 Oxford Ave.

The ordinance would make it illegal for anyone to practice conversion therapy with minors, making them liable of fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 for each violation.

• Also during Monday night’s meeting, the council heard a presentation on the public excessive intoxication ordinance that will be up for a vote today. Several members of the public spoke in support of enacting the law aimed at curtailing problem drinking and drug use in the city.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter


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