Burbidge: Massachusetts and the fight for health care for LGBT Americans

Earlier this month, President Trump signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare.

The language in this legislation mandates that health insurance coverage must cover screenings, treatment and counseling, and include coverage for HIV testing. Along with comprehensive coverage of services related to pregnancy, abortion and sexual and reproductive health, this will insure that many LGBT people will have an opportunity to access the health care services they need.

All states currently prohibit the practice of conversion therapy — which targets gay and transgender individuals to change their sexual orientation or gender identity and urges them to engage in behaviors that reverse this orientation or behavior. However, efforts to add a federal prohibition have been repeatedly rejected by Congress, largely as an attempt to curry political favor among the Evangelical Christian constituency and allow religious exemptions to the rule.

This year, we learned that Democrats have also served up a token Conservative Evangelical as their LGBTQ “friend of the court.” United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Trump, has effectively rendered a federal prohibition against conversion therapy moot by effectively affirming the rule’s principles.

Nevertheless, two of our colleagues, Anthony D. Perkins and Steven Ho, have recently filed suit in federal court to prohibit conversion therapy practices in California and 16 other states.

Gorsuch may be unique in that he has firmly affirmed the importance of universal coverage for reproductive health care, including LGBTQ rights.

“So far the people of the United States have upheld an idea so simple that it sounds remarkably un-American: that nobody should be denied health care because of their gender identity or medical condition,” he wrote in a concurring opinion in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

It was only a little over two years ago that a Republican president signed a federal bill codifying the practice of conversion therapy across the country. Throughout this debate, LGBT people have held firm that health care access — including health care services that do not include assistance in changing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity — must be protected.

Prior to the 2016 election, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was on board with the Obama administration. She praised the attorney general’s guidance prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy for minors, noting “The LGBT community should not be discriminated against in their pursuit of basic health care coverage.”

Some have maintained that a federal prohibition would impinge on the religious freedoms of those who are committed to “reparative therapy.”

I have no doubt that this is true. However, those who rightly fight for a ban on conversion therapy should commend Senators Warren and Sanders and all of their colleagues on the Hill for rejecting yet another attempt by extremists to carve out a free-for-all exception for those practicing conversion therapy.

The members of Congress who are opposed to a federal ban on conversion therapy not only upheld the constitutionality of our country’s existing protections for basic health care, they also acknowledge that LGBT people deserve access to health care. To the extent that this restricts the abuse of the practice of this deranged myth, it is a win.

Dr. Mary Burbidge is an adjunct clinical professor at Beeson Divinity School, Auburn University.

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