New Jersey Court to Hear Landmark Case on Gay Conversion Therapy

By Barbara Hollingsworth | May 13, 2015 | 11:59am EDT
Charles LiMandri. founder of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund.

(CNSNews.com) - A lawsuit to determine whether a non-profit Jewish counseling service that helps clients deal with unwanted same-sex attraction violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) is scheduled for trial in New Jersey’s Superior Court on June 1st.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2012 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) on behalf of four former clients and two of their mothers.  

The suit claims that JONAH violated the CFA by engaging in “unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise and misrepresentation” by treating homosexuality as “a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent” instead of “a normal variation of human sexuality,” and by fraudulently promising clients that JONAH counselors could help them change their homosexual orientation.

JONAH responded that there was no fraud involved because there is "no scientific consensus that sexual orientation is fixed and immutable," arguing that "it is not the role of the court to decide societal issues that are subject to scientific dispute." In addition, the former clients all signed a consent form that clearly informed them there was “no guarantee” the therapy would be successful. 

In a preliminary Feb. 5 order, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso agreed with SPLC that describing homosexuality as a mental illness would constitute a violation of the state’s CFA. “The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted,” he wrote.

However, Bariso acknowledged that “a jury could find, based on evidence presented at trial, that JONAH represented homosexuality not as a mental disorder, but as ‘disordered’ and prohibited by its religion. First Amendment protections would be applicable in this latter situation.”

The landmark case will set an important legal precedent regarding the use of controversial “gay conversion” or “reparative” therapy, which seeks to reorient a person’s same-sex attraction to the opposite sex.

Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel of the non-profit Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF), which is defending JONAH, said in a recent interview that “the SPLC’s lawsuit violates the basic right to self-determination and it sets the stage for outlawing counseling that the Left does not like, including counseling by the clergy. We have to stop them here, or we are going to be fighting them all over the country.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”

Nonetheless, therapeutic approaches to changing sexual orientation have come under increasing fire by government officials at the state and federal level.

On April 8, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett responded to a petition to ban conversion therapy. In a statement posted on the White House website, Jarrett wrote that “the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”

In 2013, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that bars counselors and therapists from providing gay conversion therapy to minors. Citing possible suicide and depression as side-effects of the therapy, Christie said that “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the New Jersey ban earlier this month.

California and the District of Columbia have also banned reparative therapy for their minor residents, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign a similar measure into law. However, bills to ban the controversial therapy failed in Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, and Virginia this year and similar efforts derailed in 11 other states in 2014.

“There is clear evidence that reparative therapy does not work, and some significant evidence that it is also harmful to LGBT people,” the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign (HRC) stated.

However, that view is not shared by Dr. Nicholas Cummings, a former president of the APA and sponsor of the group’s official 1975 resolution stating that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.

Cummings was Kaiser Permanente’s chief psychologist in San Francisco during the 1970s when the city’s gay and lesbian population rapidly increased. In a May 3, 2013 sworn certification in defense of JONAH, Cummings wrote that only a “small minority” of the 18,000 patients he personally treated or supervised during that time stated a goal of reorienting. But “of the patients who had sought to change their sexual orientation, hundreds were successful," he said.

“The role of psychotherapy and counseling in sexual orientation change efforts has become highly politicized. Gay and lesbian rights activists appear to be succeeding in their efforts to convince the public that homosexuality is one identical, unitary, unvarying and inherited characteristic.

“To my dismay, some in the organized mental health community, including the APA, previously tended not to dispute this view that all homosexuality is ‘hard-wired’ and that same-sex attraction can never be changed, even though it is not supported by scientific evidence. …

“Accusing professionals who provide treatment for fully informed persons seeking to change their sexual orientation of perpetrating a fraud is not accurate. Such a tactic serves only to stigmatize the professional and shame the patient,” Cummings wrote.

“I’m sure there are a lot of gay people who have had bad experiences with counselors. And I’m not saying that every gay person can choose to change their sexual attraction,” FCDF board member Maggie Gallagher told CNSNews.com. “But there’s not one particular form of therapy that the psychological profession has dubbed ‘harmful’. Therapists and counselors use different modalities, depending on the client’s individual needs and preferences.

"So this is not about shutting down a particular kind of therapy. It is about any kind of counseling to help people live their lives as they choose,” she said. “It’s a violation of some of the deepest norms of the psychological profession, which is patient autonomy and patient choice.”

 “What the Southern Poverty Law Center did in the ‘70s was use their financial and legal muscle to put racist hate groups out of business,” Gallagher continued. “And unfortunately, now the progressive Left is redefining traditional Christian beliefs about sex and marriage as the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan."

Gallagher said that SPLC’s attempt to prevent JONAH and other counseling services from offering reparative therapy to adults who want to change their same-sex attraction is part of a larger assault on traditional moral values, accusing SPLC of attempting to "misuse New Jersey's consumer fraud law to litigate away your right to choose professional help."

“Their goal is to use this case to drive out of business anyone who wants to offer responsible professional help to people with same-sex attraction who do not want to live an openly affirmed gay lifestyle. And it is part of the process, in a broader sense, of delegitimizing Christian views in the public square.”

“This is part of a broader trend to impose a new morality on everyone in America that says sexual orientation is like race. That means traditional Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish views are the equivalent of racism and they should be suppressed in the same ways. That’s the fundamental crisis in religious liberty we’re facing,” Gallagher told CNSNews.com.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center... is a beachhead of this effort to impose a new morality on America. They have to be stopped," she said.

“The argument that gay equality is predicated on is the idea that homosexuality is like race, but this is profoundly untrue because we may or may not be able to choose our sexual desires, but we all choose our sexual behaviors. And the second way that sexual attraction is not like race is that the research is increasingly showing an amazing amount of sexual fluidity,” Gallagher added, pointing to research by University of Utah psychology professor Lisa Diamond.

In an October 17, 2013 lecture available on YouTube, Diamond reported that after analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, she found that “up to 8 percent of the boys and around 6 percent of the girls were reporting some sort of change in same-sex attractions.”

In addition, “48% of lesbian-identified women reported some degree of attraction to men in the previous year,” Diamond said, “while 40% of the gay-identified men reported they had some attraction to a woman in the past 12 months.”

“I’ve come to see fluidity as a general feature of sexuality,” Diamond said. “On a political level, we have advocated for the civil rights of LGBT people on the basis of them being LGBT…and that is really, really tricky now that we know that it’s not true.”

 

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