OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A bill that would protect an Oklahoma parent's right to take a child to conversion therapy aimed at eliminating same-sex attraction or gender confusion advanced on Tuesday from a state House of Representatives committee.
The proposal, approved in a 5-3 vote in the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature, bars local or state governments from restricting or prohibiting the therapy or counseling.
"Ultimately, this is to protect children who suffer from same-sex attraction," said Republican Representative Sally Kern, author of the bill and several other proposals that would limit the rights of gay and transgender people in Oklahoma.
Lawmakers also have considered prohibiting use of taxpayer funds or governmental salaries to support same-sex marriage and prohibiting a religious entity from being required to recognize gay marriage or provide services or employment to gays.
Kern said the bill is a pre-emptive strike against a national movement to prohibit conversion therapy and reaffirms parental rights and protects therapists who offer the counseling. It next goes to the full House for consideration.
Opponents said the bill would remove oversight from mental health professionals and could put children in danger of abuse. The practice has been banned in two states on grounds it is medically unfounded and puts children in danger.
"This bill removes regulations and oversight," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma. "This is not about parental rights. Parental rights end when abuse begins."
The bill allows recognized mental health providers to discuss and counsel minors on gender identity and same-sex attractions, while prohibiting electro-shock, ice baths, touch therapy and other techniques.
States including New Jersey and California have banned certain conversion therapy practices that can involve prayer and others are considering limiting the practice.
"Several states have embarked on banning conversion therapies because of the harmful - and often brutal and inhumane - tactics utilized," Mary Jo Kinzie, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said in a statement.
Reporting by Heide Brandes; Editing by David Bailey