LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: Democratic presidential candidate former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) speaks at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and CNN presidential town hall focused on LGBTQ issues on October 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. It is the first Presidential event broadcast on a major news network focused on LGBTQ issues.   (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Beto O'Rourke: Conversion therapy is tantamount to torture
01:28 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas said on Thursday that conversion therapy “should be illegal” and compared the widely discredited practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation of gays, lesbians and bisexuals to torture.

“As president, we will seek to outlaw it everywhere in this country,” the Democratic candidate said Thursday at an LGBTQ town hall hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. “In my opinion, this is tantamount to torture. Torture that we’re visiting on children who are absolutely defenseless.”

So-called conversion therapies, sometimes referred to as reparative treatments, center on the debunked assumption that sexual orientation can be changed by a series of procedures. The practice is widely decried, and a number of states have made it illegal.

“We’re going to make sure that whatever the penalty is, it is steep enough to dissuade anybody from entering into this practice or being able to torture kids with the kind of impunity that we have seen so far,” O’Rourke said.

The former congressman continued: “We’re also going to recognize that these kind of practices, in addition to the immediate torture that that child or that person feels, also adds to other challenges that we have.” He connected conversion therapy with homeless youth in America.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said at the town hall that she would also ban the practice. “I think we know this makes no sense at all. We know this isn’t the right thing to do,” she said.

The practice continues despite public opinion polls at the national level and in several states finding majority support for ending the use of conversion therapy on youth, according to the study by The Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law.