(Photo Courtesy Tom Hester, Jr.)
The New Jersey State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill on Monday that would ban the controversial reparative therapy for gay minors.
In a vote of 54 yeas to 14 nays with 7 abstentions, the Assembly approved A-3371, sending it to the Senate for consideration.
"Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years," reads the bill. "A person who is licensed to provide professional counseling … shall not engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a person under 18 years of age."
A-3371 was sponsored by Assemblymen Timothy J. Eustace, Herb Conaway, Jr., John J. Burzichelli, Holly Schepisi, and Reed Gusciora. All the sponsors except Republican Schepisi were Democrats.
Tom Hester, Jr., associate executive director for communications for the New Jersey Assembly Majority Office, provided The Christian Post with a press release that included a statement from Eustace. The Assemblyman argued that the bill was a necessary protection for children in light of research by experts.
"Studies and personal testimony have shown this practice creates irreparable harm on young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality," said Eustace.
"Forcing someone to deny their innate feelings and their very existence has led to depression, suicidal tendencies and other untold harm. Leading psychological professionals agree that this practice has no place in legitimate mental health therapies."
Dr. Barry Helfmann, director of Professional Affairs for the New Jersey Psychological Association, told The Christian Post that his organization supported A-3371.
"We are in support of the bill. We think that it's a bill that protects children and mental health rights of children," said Helfmann.
Helfmann also told CP that the NJPA has been involved in both tracking the bill's progress and advocating for its passage.
"We have been monitoring the bill and have had contact with the sponsors and in fact we sent out a detailed letter to [Democratic Senator Raymond Lesniak] outlining support of the bill," said Helfmann. "I think [reparative therapy] is a very dangerous procedure that is not supported by literature or by clinical efficacy."
While passed by the NJ assembly, A-3371 is not without its critics. Some have argued that the bill is a threat to parental rights or may set a dangerous precedent of government intrusion into psychology.
In March, the editorial board of the New Jersey Star Ledger wrote that while the bill was "well-intentioned," to ban reparative therapy for minors would be "an overreach."
"Think about what this could mean in the future. Do we also want the Legislature weighing in on other controversies, such as how to treat children who may be transgendered," wrote the board. "It's not always clear what's in the best interest of a child and, depending on a parent's point of view, doctors take very different approaches. The state shouldn't make that choice for them."
The Star Ledger also argued that nearly all practitioners of reparative therapy for minors are unlicensed, meaning A-3371 would have little effect on halting the therapy's usage.
"It's primarily practiced by religious leaders, counselors or life coaches who aren't licensed. None of these people would be affected by this bill, which applies only to licensed therapists," wrote the board.
"…in most cases, there's no medicine or electric shock treatments involved. It's strictly a form of talk therapy. And lawmakers have never outlawed any type of talk therapy. Do we really want them to decide what sort of speech should be allowed in your therapist's office?"
Last year, the state of California passed a similar bill banning reparative therapy for minors. Before the law could take effect, a suit was brought against it in court and a judge halted its enforcement.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has not indicated whether or not he would sign the bill into law if the Senate passes it.