‘I'll be nauseated': Republican senators torn over conversion therapy vote

A vote on banning therapists from trying to convert gay children in Minnesota left lawmakers choked up this week at the state Capitol.

The debate started when state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, offered an amendment to restrict so-called conversion therapy being practiced on minors. It led to emotional floor speeches that made clear the tough negotiations over the issue in the Republican caucus.

The amendment failed, 34-30, when no majority Republicans voted in favor. Republican state Sen. Scott Jensen said his “no” vote would leave him feeling sick, and suggested he was only doing it because of threats that fellow Republicans would torpedo an entire budget bill if the conversion therapy issue got attached to it.

“I understand my caucus isn’t where I’m at, and I can understand that. I don’t think we’re done on this issue yet,” said Jensen, R-Chaska. “But when I drive home tonight, I’m pretty sure I’ll be nauseated all the way.”

State Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, followed Jensen and said he too was feeling “nauseated.”

In an interview, Dibble said between four and 10 Republican senators were willing to vote for restrictions on conversion therapy. Under threat from six other GOP senators, they backed off, Dibble said.

The six Republican senators oppose the proposed ban and planned to reject the Senate’s entire $15 billion health and human services bill if conversion therapy ban restrictions became part of it.

Dibble, who is openly gay, said the issue was personal to him. As a child in an evangelical church, Dibble said he “prayed as hard as I could” to change his sexual orientation, he said.

“Even members in this chamber who know in good conscience this is the right thing to do will not support this,” Dibble said on the Senate floor. “And young people will be left twisting on their own in pain, suffering.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka was in his district Friday and was unavailable for an interview about the debate, a spokeswoman said.

“Sen. Gazelka would like to see this conversation continue in the conference committee process to try to find a solution for both sides,” said Rachel Aplikowski, the Senate Republicans’ spokeswoman.

Some Republicans oppose the restrictions because they see them as government imposing its will on families seeking therapy options for children.

The medical community has largely discredited the therapy. The House, which Democrats control, has included a ban on child conversion therapy in its health and human services budget bill.

That ensures the issue will be part of end-of-session negotiations over the budget.