New Jersey Couple Suing State Over Law Barring Reparative Therapy

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New Jersey Couple Suing State Over Law Barring Reparative Therapy

Martha Kempner

Earlier this year, New Jersey became the second state to ban reparative therapy—the practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation—for minors. Now a couple is suing, saying that their son wants this therapy and should be allowed to get it.

A New Jersey couple is suing the state over a law barring reparative therapy, the practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Reparative therapy is denounced by all major medical and psychological organizations, as it has been found to be both ineffectual and harmful to patients’ mental health. While many adults have undergone this type of therapy voluntarily, there are numerous stories of young people who say they were forced into it by their parents.

A law passed in March in the state bans licensed practitioners from performing gay conversion therapy on minors, even if parental permission is given. But now the law is being challenged in court by an unnamed couple who wishes to seek reparative therapy for their son. According to the Washington Post, the parents “claim in their suit that the law violates their rights to free speech and freedom of religion, as well as their 14th Amendment right to equal protection, by ‘denying minors the opportunity to pursue a particular course of action that can help them address the conflicts between their religious and moral values and same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.’”

The suit against the law goes on to explain that the boy in question “has a sincerely held religious belief and conviction that homosexuality is wrong and immoral, and he wanted to address that value conflict because his unwanted same-sex attractions and gender confusion are contrary to the fundamental religious values that he holds.”

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, fresh off an election win, with his eye seemingly on the Republican presidential nomination, has tread carefully when it comes to LGBTQ issues and rights. He is Catholic, but has said he does not see homosexuality as a sin. He opposes gay marriage and vetoed a bill to make it legal in New Jersey, but when it became clear that he could not win this issue in the state’s courts, his administration dropped its plans to appeal. His mixed record and competing priorities meant that many were unclear about what he was going to do earlier this year when the reparative therapy bill was introduced.

Gov. Christie initially said he was of two minds on this issue: “Number one, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children. I don’t—this is a general philosophy, not to his bill—generally philosophically, on bills that restrict parents’ ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, I’m generally a skeptic of those bills. Now, there can always be exceptions to those rules, and this bill may be one of them.” Ultimately, however, he signed the bill.

The law only applies to licensed mental health-care providers. However, reparative therapy is often provided by religious advisers, and the law does not prevent the boy’s parents from turning to such individuals.

The lawyer for the parents in the suit told the Washington Post that he believes the law is based on faulty research because very little of it actually looked at minors. He said, “The Legislature, in enacting this legislation, relied on reports that this was harmful. We believe that the literature and reports are not accurate and what the legislation relied on is erroneous and that there are constitutional implications.”

Experts, however, disagree. Dr. Jack Drescher, who has written extensively on this issue, told the Atlantic Wire, “[The idea that] being gay is a choice has no basis in current scientific thinking. Not only is homosexuality ‘not a choice,’ as most efforts to try and change a person’s sexual orientation fail, but some attempts to change can cause harm and damage to an individual’s well-being.”

California is the only other state that has a law banning reparative therapy for minors. That law was the subject of a similar challenge earlier this year but was upheld by federal appeals court in August.

A federal judge is scheduled to decide by December 2 whether to grant a preliminary injunction to keep the New Jersey law from being enforced. The couple who filed the suit is also asking for “nominal damages” and attorneys’ fees.