Federal Court Rules in Favor of New Jersey's Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy

New York City gay pride parade crowd in this undated photo.
New York City gay pride parade crowd in this undated photo. | (Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

A federal appeals court panel has upheld New Jersey's law banning sexual orientation change therapy for minors, in agreement with a lower court decision.

Three judges from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in King v. Christie that while they held some disagreement with an earlier district court decision, they still affirmed the decision against the plaintiffs.

At issue was New Jersey's A3371, a law passed in 2013 with strong bipartisan support, which bans conversion therapy for LGBT minors.

"Although we reject the district court's conclusion that A3371 prohibits only 'conduct' that is wholly unprotected by the First Amendment, we uphold the statute as a regulation of professional speech that passes intermediate scrutiny," read the majority opinion.

"We agree with the district court that A3371 does not violate plaintiffs' right to free exercise of religion, as it is a neutral and generally applicable law that is rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

The Third Circuit panel also concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue the government over the law, given that minors could sue on their own behalf as in previous unrelated cases.

"… the fact that minor clients have previously filed suit bolsters our conclusion that they are not sufficiently hindered in their ability to protect their own interests. Accordingly, we hold that plaintiffs lack standing to pursue claims on behalf of their minor clients," wrote the panel.

Introduced by New Jersey Assemblyman Timothy J. Eustace in 2012, A3371 passed both houses of the legislature with overwhelming support.

In August 2013, Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill into law after weeks of public uncertainty on the matter.

LGBT organizations hailed A3371 as a way to protect gay youth while conservative groups denounced it as a restriction on parental and religious rights.

Immediately after A3371 became law, a lawsuit was brought by the Liberty Counsel on behalf of various parties affected by the legislation.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson ruled in favor of A3371 in the case King v. Christie and then again last month the similar suit Doe v. Christie.

"Plaintiffs Jack and Jane Doe contend that their fundamental right to care for their son, John Doe, is infringed … because it prevents them from making decisions concerning their child's mental, emotional and physical health," wrote Wolfson in August.

"Plaintiffs provide no case law or other authority in support of the proposition that Jack and Jane Doe's fundamental parental rights encompass the right to choose for their son any medical treatment they desire."

LGBT groups, including Garden State Equality, approved of the Third Circuit panel's decision earlier this week, with GSE Executive Director Andrea Bowen calling it a "major victory."

"The court's decision today is a major victory for the thousands of young people who will now be protected from these dangerous and horrific practices," stated Bowen.

"No one should subject minors to conversion therapy — least of all state-licensed clinicians responsible for the care and well-being of their patients."

Regarding their next step after losing at the Third Circuit level, the Liberty Counsel released a statement Thursday arguing that an appeal to the United States Supreme Court was being considered.

"The laws banning counseling in this area are simply unconstitutional violations of free speech," stated the Liberty Counsel.

"Liberty Counsel will ask the Supreme Court to review this decision, and we will not stop fighting until these laws are relegated to the dustbins of history."

In addition to New Jersey, California also has a law prohibiting conversion therapy for minors. As with A3371, it is being challenged in court but has thus far been upheld.

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