Federal judge dismisses challenge to New Jersey “ex-gay therapy” ban

Photo: Chris Christie. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

Photo: Chris Christie. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

A challenge to New Jersey’s law prohibiting “ex-gay therapy” for minors was dismissed by a federal judge Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson dismissed the case, Doe v. Christie, which was filed by a minor and his parents arguing that the New Jersey ban violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The dismissal follows a similar decision by Wolfson in November 2013 in the case King v. Christie, filed by two licensed therapists challenging the law.

In that case, Wolfson determined that the New Jersey law “does not violate the therapist-plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech because the statute regulates conduct, not speech, and does not have an incidental effect on speech, (ii) is rationally related to the state’s interest in protecting minors from professional counselling [sic] deemed harmful, (iii) is neither unconstitutionally overbroad nor vague, and (iv) does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.” The case was appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has yet to issue a decision.

Wolfson had stayed the Doe case as the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether to take up a case challenging California’s ban on “reparative therapy” for LGBT youth. In June, the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on California’s ban on “ex-gay therapy” for minors, allowing a unanimous decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the law to stand. In her decision today, Wolfson dismissed all of the arguments made by the plaintiffs. 

“Accordingly, all of Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendant are DISMISSED,” the order states.

Following California, New Jersey became the second state in the nation to ban ex-gay therapy for minors when Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed a bill into law in August banning the practice at the hands of licensed therapists.

Wolfson’s decision comes as nine former leaders of the ex-gay movement denounced the practice of reparative therapy in an open letter posted on the website of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Writing that such practices are “poison to the soul,” the letter states that conversion therapy causes emotional and psychological harm and can lead to suicide.

“As former ‘ex-gay’ leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy,” the group writes. “It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBT individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well-adjusted lives.”

The letter is signed by Brad Allen, Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee, Catherine Chapman, Jeremy Marks, Bill Prickett, Tim Rymel, Yvette Cantu Schneider and John J. Smid.

Read the full letter: 

Conversion Therapy, also known as “reparative therapy”, “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), professes to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to change or overcome their sexual orientation or gender identity. The majority of those who practice this “therapy” often do so with little or no formal psychological training, operating instead from a strict religious perspective, believing homosexuality to be a “sin.”

At one time, we were not only deeply involved in these “ex-gay” programs, we were the founders, the leaders, and the promoters. Together we represent more than half a century of experience, so few people are more knowledgeable about the ineffectiveness and harm of conversion therapy. We know first-hand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBT youth. We once believed that there was something morally wrong and psychologically “broken” about being LGBT. We know better now. We once believed that sexual orientation or gender identity were somehow chosen or could be changed. We know better now. We once thought it was impossible to embrace our sexual orientation or sexual identity as an intrinsic, healthy part of who we are and who we were created to be. We know better now. Looking back, we were just believing (and sometimes teaching) what we had been taught—that our identity needed mending. We grew up being told that being LGBT was disordered, sick, mentally ill, sinful, and displeasing to God. We grew up being told that loving, same-sex relationships were shallow, lust-driven, deceived, disordered, and impossible.

We grew up with the repetitive message that LGBT people were not enough — not straight enough, not Christian enough, not manly or womanly enough, not faithful enough, not praying enough. Never, ever enough. “Toxic” probably sums it up best. That message is poison to the soul. Especially a child’s soul. It can take a lifetime to get rid of that old programming and replace it with healthy, non-toxic views of yourself. Recovery from conversion therapy is difficult at best. Some remain forever scarred, emotionally and spiritually.Conversion therapy reinforces internalized homophobia, anxiety, guilt and depression. It leads to self-loathing and emotional and psychological harm when change doesn’t happen. Regrettably, too many will choose suicide as a result of their sense of failure. In light of this, we now stand united in our conviction that conversion therapy is not “therapy,” but is instead both ineffective and harmful. We align ourselves with every major mainstream professional medical and mental health organization in denouncing attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity. We admonish parents to love and accept your LGBT children as they are. We beseech the church to accept, embrace, and affirm LGBT persons with full equality and inclusion.

As former “ex-gay” leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy. It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBT individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well-adjusted lives. We fully support the aim of #BornPerfect to bring an end to conversion therapy.

Signed:

Brad Allen
Lay Leader Volunteer (2005-2007)
Church Network Coordinator (2007)
Exodus International Headquarters

Darlene Bogle
Founder, Director, Counselor (1985 to 1992)
Paraklete Ministries

Michael Bussee
EXIT (1974-1979)
Co-founder (1976-1979)
Exodus International

Catherine Chapman
Project Coordinator (2000-2003)
Women’s Ministry Director (2005-2007)
Portland Fellowship

Jeremy Marks
Founder (1988 – 2000)
Courage UK
Exodus Europe (1988 – 1989)

Bill Prickett
Founder, Executive Director (1986-1988)
Coming Back

Tim Rymel
Outreach Director (1991-1996)
Love in Action

Yvette Cantu Schneider
Executive Director (2001-2005) Living in Victory Ministry  Director of Women’s Ministry (2008-2011)
Exodus International

John J. Smid
Executive Director (1987-2008)
Love In Action
Exodus International Board of Directors (1990-1995; 2002-2008)

Doe v. Christie

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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