Earlier this summer, Exodus International, long the standard-bearer for so-called "conversion" or "ex-gay" therapy that demonized homosexuality and evangelized a purported ability of gay individuals to change their sexual orientation, closed its doors.
In his signoff, Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus and a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, delivered a lengthy apology that included a litany of remorse and an acknowledgement of the harm he caused. For Chambers, the writing was on the wall: The ex-gay movement had lost credibility, momentum, and-most important-support. Not surprising, then, that last month, when a bill to ban "ex-gay" therapy for minors in New Jersey landed on Chris Christie's desk, the Republican Governor added his signature-without apology.
With its law, New Jersey joined California to become the second state to formalize a ban on pseudoscience that has been debunked and derided by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and more. Even Robert Spitzer, a godfather of sorts of the ex-gay movement as a leading psychiatric proponent of "sexual reorientation," retracted his widely cited 2001 study, Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? stating it was poisoned with a "fatal flaw" and made "unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy."
Among the torchbearers of "ex-gay" therapy these days, apologies are many. In April of this year, John Paulk, of Focus on the Family fame and the founder of the chimerically named organization Love Won Out, also declared his remorse for advocating orientational alchemy, adding, "I see LGBT people for who they are-beloved, cherished children of God. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology to men, women, and especially children and teens who felt unlovable, unworthy, shamed or thrown away by God or the church."
New Jersey and California won't be the only states to outlaw "ex-gay" therapy-already legislation has begun percolating in Pennsylvania and New York.
This movement toward banning "reparative" therapy isn't legislative elitism, or the opinions of a secular medical community thrust upon the populace; a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll from July 2011 showed a mere 24 percent of Americans believed "gay people can be made straight through intensive psychological therapy or prayer." Laws banning "conversion" therapy for minors are a reflection of the beliefs and will of the people.
We can have a principled debate on civil marriage equality for committed same-sex couples, but one thing we should all be able to agree upon is the medical evidence that being gay is not a choice. Expert assessments have concluded that trying to force someone to change their sexual orientation only succeeds in fostering substance abuse, depression, and, in some cases, suicide.
A 2009 study by the Family Acceptance Project revealed that LGBT youth who faced high levels of rejection by their parents were three times as likely to use illegal drugs, six times as likely to suffer from depression, and-in a startling statistic-more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide.
Science continues to explore the causes of sexual orientation, and the nature-versus-nurture debate will continue, but it is actually immaterial to the polemical arguments advocating the legitimacy of "reparative" therapy. If being gay is not a choice-regardless of its cause- as science has concluded, or at the very least if the dangers and harmful consequences of trying to force someone to change their sexual orientation are manifold, our focus should move from one of encouraging shame to exhibiting respect. As Christians, this should mean treating gay people with the same love God exhibited in their creation-Christian parents, especially.