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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Gay-Conversion Therapy Ban in NJ Survives Suit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A teenager who credits gay-conversion therapy with helping him overcome "unwanted same-sex attractions" failed to persuade the 3rd Circuit that New Jersey's ban on such counseling violates his civil rights.

The federal appeals court has upheld New Jersey's law before, finding last year that a Christian counseling group did not show an illegal restraint on speech.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation, A3371, against "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE) in 2013. The statute says the methods rebut "fundamental principles of psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes."

In the challenge John Doe and his parents brought against the law, they claimed that so-called conversion therapy had successfully reduced John's homosexual tendencies, as well as his suicidality, after he began attending conversion therapy at the age of 12. They also alleged that the law violated the methods they choose with which to raise their child.

A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit agreed Monday that the Doe family's case fails, citing the court's reasoning in tossing the suit by the Christian counselors that such therapies are harmful to minors.

Critical to the ruling is the finding "that SOCE counseling posed harms that were real, not merely speculative."

Evidence in the legislative record shows "that various reputable scientific and professional organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE counseling based on its potential to inflict harm and the lack of 'credible evidence that SOCE counseling is effective,'" Judge Dolores Sloviter wrote for the panel.

In refusing to consider a less restrictive law that required minor clients to give their informed consent before undergoing SOCE counseling, the court noted that minors are "especially vulnerable" and that they might "feel pressured to receive SOCE counseling by their families and their communities."

The Doe family's case differs from that of the Christian counselors in claiming "that A3371 burdens, not their right to speak, but their right to receive information," Sloviter added.

This claim fails, according to the ruling, because "the listener's right to receive information is reciprocal to the speaker's right to speak."

Sloviter likewise rejected the claim about the Doe parents' child-rearing rights.

Citing limits to the protections in the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment, Sloviter said "the state may '[a]ct[] to guard the general interest in [a] youth's well being.'"

The ruling concludes with a reference to California's similar legislation, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review last year.

In upholding California's ban, the 9th Circuit had said that "the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific type of provider for a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful."

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