(Photo Courtesy Tom Hester, Jr.)
A conservative legal group has argued that New Jersey's recently passed ban on sexual orientation change therapy for minors attacks their "right to self-determination."
The lawsuit, filed by the Liberty Counsel last Thursday, argues that the newly signed law A-3371 interferes with the rights of both therapy providers and their potential clients.
"A3371 denies or severely impairs Plaintiffs' clients and all minors their right to self-determination, their right to prioritize their religious and moral values, and their right to receive effective counseling consistent with those values," reads the lawsuit.
"A3371 infringes on the fundamental rights of Plaintiffs' clients, Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Injunctive Relief, and Nominal Damages and the rights of the parents of Plaintiffs' clients to direct the upbringing and education of their children, which includes the right to meet each child's individual counseling, developmental, and spiritual needs."
The Liberty Counsel filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, Camden Division on behalf of two conversion therapy providers, National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), and the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC).
At the center of the lawsuit is A-3371, a piece of legislation introduced last year by Assemblyman Timothy J. Eustace, who had both Democrat and Republican support.
The bill banned licensed therapists from engaging in conversion therapy for minors, also called reparative therapy, which is psychiatric treatment meant to change a person's sexual orientation.
"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," reads A-3371 in part.
A-3371 was introduced last October and then referred to the Assembly's Women and Children Committee. It passed the Assembly in June with a vote of 56 yeas, 14 nays, and seven abstentions.
A few days later the New Jersey Senate would pass the bill with a vote of 28 yeas to nine nays, sending the proposed legislation to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.
Christie, considered by many to be a possible GOP presidential candidate for 2016, signed A-3371 into law in August after weeks of public uncertainty.
"Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly," said Christie in a signing note, as reported by the Associated Press.
A Very Dangerous Procedure
As with other measures against conversion therapy, major psychological institutions in the Garden State voiced their support for A-3371.
Dr. Barry Helfmann, director of Professional Affairs for the New Jersey Psychological Association, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that the bill protected the "mental health rights of children."
"I think [reparative therapy] is a very dangerous procedure that is not supported by literature or by clinical efficacy," said Helfmann.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group known for listing antigay organizations like the Family Research Council as "hate groups," also opposes conversion therapy.
Last November, while A-3371 was making its way through the legislature, the SPLC filed suit against a Jewish conversion therapy group based in Jersey City.
Known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), the SPLC brought their suit on behalf of individuals who say that the organization's promise of sexual orientation conversion constituted fraud.
"This is a case challenging services provided by Defendants purporting to change a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight," reads the SPLC suit. "Plaintiffs bring this case under the New Jersey Fraud Act, which protects consumers from deceptive, false, or fraudulent business practices."
Arguments over the SPLC suit against JONAH were held before The Superior Court of Hudson County in July. JONAH was represented by the California-based The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund.
Christie himself has also denounced conversion therapy as having "health risks" lacking "clear evidence of benefits" and Assemblyman Eustace, chief sponsor of A-3371, called the therapy "an insidious form of child abuse."
Opponents of A-3371 have made a diverse set of arguments, ranging from questions of government intrusion to parental rights.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement last Thursday that A-3371 is "a tyrannical overreach of government authority."
"With this law, parents may face Child Protective Services investigating their home and even law enforcement taking their children if they seek change therapy," said Staver.
Immediately following Gov. Christie's signing of the bill into law, a spokesman from the Liberty Counsel told The Christian Post about their intention to file suit.
Dr. Nicholas Cummings, former president of the American Psychological Association, wrote an a recent USA Today column that contrary to what opponents of conversion claimed sexual orientation could be changed.
"But contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as 'unethical' violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients' goals for their own treatment," wrote Cummings.
"A political agenda shouldn't prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions."
In a statement released last week, the pro-reparative therapy group NARTH took issue with the claim that conversion therapy for minors leads to major mental health risks.
"…there is absolutely no evidence that children who might be seen by a therapist – in some cases because of abuse or neglect – and are having confused or misdirected feelings of same-sex attraction experience any suicidal feelings or depression related to [conversion therapy]," reads the press release in part.
"In fact, it is just as likely that any feelings or confusion surrounding same-sex attractions – confusions that could now receive only gay affirming therapy – are just as likely to be the cause of depression, and the professional help provided by NARTH clinicians the solution."