Those who oppose a California bill that would classify paid services to change sexual orientation as consumer fraud are already predicting its legislative passage. But they say they're not defeated. Instead, they focusing on victory in court.
Pastor Jim Domen, who once identified as gay, has led hundreds of other California pastors in a fight against AB2943. As the founder of the pastoral advocacy group Church United he's organized informational meetings and rallies at the state Capitol and conducted multiple media interviews.
But on Wednesday, one day after the state Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill, Domen told CBN News, "I don't believe we're going to be able to stop it. The legislature is not fearful or concerned of anyone from a religious community," he said.
Still, Domen sees a dramatic spiritual change in the Capitol coinciding with the tidal wave of lawmaker support for the bill, which has already passed the California Assembly. "It's awakening the church," Domen said.
On Tuesday before the hearing, hundreds showed for a rally opposing the bill and many shared testimonies of being set free from same-sex attraction. "In the spiritual realms, things shifted," said Domen, "to hear so many stories of freedom and the power of Christ that was unleashed yesterday on the steps of the Capitol."
Domen and others who oppose the bill are still urging believers to call their senators and let them know where they stand.
In the meantime, Nada Higuera, an attorney with the law firm Tyler & Bursch which specializes in religious liberty cases, is preparing for a court battle.
"We're gearing up right now," she told CBN News late Wednesday, "as we speak I'm writing our complaint."
If California lawmakers send AB2943 to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk and he signs it--which appears likely--Tyler & Bursch plan to file suit both at the state and federal level.
Higuera says the bill as it stands violates the freedom of speech and freedom of religion guaranteed in both the California and US constitutions. "This law violates both of those because it is basically illegal for counselors or therapists or anyone else who gets paid for this to do their practice," she said.
The bill outlaws any effort to advertise counseling that would address a desire to change sexual orientation and any business transaction that would help a person who wants to change their orientation. It could affect not only pastoral counselors and private practices in the state but also church conferences and ministry events where a nominal fee is charged.
Jonathan Keller, the president of the California Family Council, said he's confident the bill will not survive a challenge in the courts and he believes the recent Supreme Court Masterpiece cakeshop ruling will strengthen their fight. He says that Justice Kennedy made clear in that ruling that it's not acceptable to demean religious beliefs and says that's exactly what he's seen on the part of some California lawmakers debating the faith community that has fought this bill.
"I think if you look at Kennedy's comments in Masterpiece," Keller said, "he made it very clear that discriminatory bias and animus on the part of legislators is a big no-no when it comes to regulating speech and conduct."
In April, state assemblyman Evan Low who sponsored the bill touted it as being narrow in scope and simply addressing consumer fraud. "You can still talk about the beliefs or whatever the freedom of religion might be and that is still possible," he told the state assembly, "in fact, it is still possible within the confines of a church to talk about that 'they can change you' so long as there is not a financial transaction."
Higuera believes that AB2943 is just the first step towards eradicating any kind of conversation about sexual orientation change. "The next bill they come up with in the next few years is going to be all," she predicted, "it's incrementalism."
In the meantime, Bethel church pastor Ken Williams is not giving up on the legislative battle. The "once gay" man has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the bill. "My intent is to connect with the senators that we have relationships with and help them understand how scary this bill is for someone like me," he told CBN News on Wednesday.
Williams says he benefited greatly from both counseling and books as he struggled as a young adult with same-sex attraction.