Denver Capitol building

The golden dome of the Colorado state Capitol building in Denver.

The Colorado House on Tuesday approved a bill that would ban licensed mental health professionals from providing conversion therapy to minors.

The vote on House Bill 1129 was 42-20 with two Republicans, Reps. Colin Larson of Littleton and Hugh McKean of Loveland, voting in favor with the Democrats. 

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia ban conversion therapy for minors. Denver City Council passed a law in January banning the practice.

The bill prohibits mental health care professionals from engaging in conversion therapy with those under the age of 18. Conversion therapy attempts to change a person's sexual orientation.  The therapy has been discredited and renounced by groups like the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. 

During Tuesday's final House vote, Republican Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Ault said he had concerns about the bill, which he claimed would ban free speech.

"There's a lot of issues that aren't scientifically settled," he said, without clarifying what those issues are. Humphrey, a marriage counselor, also claimed lawmakers are "asserting their version of the truth about the issue based on political and religious values and not necessarily on factual findings."

"We are not stopping what a minister or pastor" might do in counseling their members, said Democratic Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet of Commerce City, one of the bill's sponsors.

This is specifically about what a licensed therapist can or cannot do, she added.

Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, the bill's other sponsor, said the legislation is about protecting children and making sure that people who kids trust and love aren't telling them there's something wrong with them.

"It's damaging, harmful and something I've seen first hand," said Esgar, who is gay and has worked with LGBT youth.

Her voice shaking, Esgar pointed to legislation offered by other members, including Humphrey, that would imply her marriage is not equal to theirs, or that she should not be able to adopt children because of who she loves.

"Why is that rocking me to my core? Because I'm an adult who got through it," she said, adding that she found a great therapist who helped her.

"You want to talk about conversion therapy and why it's free speech or not free speech? This is a therapy proven to be dangerous and harmful."

The bill now moves on to the state Senate, where it is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder.

This is the fifth year in a row that Democrats have tried to ban the practice, but it is seen as a sure bet to pass in 2019 and to be signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, who also is gay.

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