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Obama’s move to ban gay conversion therapy, explained

Marcus Bachmann and Rep. Michele Bachmann, in 2011. (Reuters)

The White House announced late Wednesday that it will work to ban the use of so-called "reparative therapy" -- also known as gay conversion therapy -- for young people.

The move comes in response to a petition on the White House Web site that has been signed by more than 120,000 people. The White House is also citing a particularly tragic case involving the suicide of a 17-year old who had been taking part in the therapy.

And politically speaking, they are on pretty solid ground.

Pretty much any time the topic turns to gay rights these days, Democrats hold the better hand. Of course, this is a somewhat different issue, having to do with parenting and religion and lots of other things to unpack.

This issue hasn't really been a major political one, except in the 2012 presidential campaign when there were allegations that Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) husband, Marcus, practiced this brand of therapy. He denied it.

Here are some worthwhile data points:

1) Many people still think homosexuality is immoral

While gay marriage now legal in many states and people have moved quickly toward acceptance of gay rights more broadly, many still think being gay is immoral. A 2014 Gallup poll showed 58 percent of people think it's morally acceptable to have gay or lesbian relations. But that still leaves about four in 10 Americans (38 percent) who believe its not morally acceptable.

2) Fewer people think homosexuality is a choice

Some people who think being gay is immoral still think it's the way people are born. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted the same month as the above Gallup poll showed 25 percent of Americans think being gay is a choice -- down from 40 percent in 1994 and 33 percent in 2004. About two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) said it's just the way people are.

Of course, just because someone thinks gay people are born gay doesn't mean they don't think conversion therapy is appropriate.

Which brings us to...

3) 24 percent of people said in a 2011 survey that gay conversion therapy works

The only real good, semi-recent poll we have on this was sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign -- a gay rights group that obviously has a dog in the fight. But the wording of the question and context seem to be fair.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll showed 24 percent of the respondants thought gay people could be turned straight either through therapy or prayer, while 69 percent disagreed.

For what it's worth, though, the question was about the efficacy of the treatment, and not its appropriateness. People could think the treatment doesn't work and that it should still be legal, and vice versa.

All of which is to say there are likely to be people who defend gay conversion therapy and view the White House's move as an incursion into religious rights. But if these numbers and the current religious freedom debate are any indication, the White House is holding the cards here.

And in a lot of ways, the White House isn't really blazing much of a trail. After all, the American Psychiatric Association condemned the practice a whopping 18 years ago, and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed a bill banning the practice in his state in 2013.

Thanks to a law passed last November, transgender residents in Mexico can now legally change their names and genders without a court order. (Video: Reuters)

Scott Clement and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this post.