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Therapists Lose Suit to ‘Convert’ Gay N.J. Kids

(CN) - New Jersey's ban against the use of "gay-conversion therapy" on children does not violate the free-speech or religion rights of licensed counselors, a federal judge ruled.

Assembly Bill No. A3371, which Gov. Chris Christie signed into law on Aug. 19, 2013, prohibits state licensed professional counselors from treating children and teens by means of "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE), more commonly known as "gay-conversion therapy."

"Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming," the statute states. "The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the U.S. have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years."

Lawmakers emphasized that "minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation face especially serious health risks," and that "such directed efforts [at changing sexual orientation] are against fundamental principles of psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes."

Days later, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association of Christian Counselors filed suit alongside two therapists, Tara King and Ronald Newman, individually and on behalf of their patients.

"By preventing minors from ... seeking to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, or identities through counseling such as sexual orientation change efforts, A3371 denies or severely impairs plaintiffs' clients and all minors their right to self-determination, their right to prioritize their religious and moral values, and their right to receive effective counseling consistent with those values," they claimed.

The six-count complaint asserted violations of the First and 14th Amendments and the New Jersey Constitution.

Last week, two New Jersey parents filed a similar suit alleging that SOCE allowed their son - who they said obsessively sketched pictures of Ariel the Little Mermaid as a child, and later felt attracted to other men and became suicidal - conquer his gender identity issues.

New Jersey's new law may cause their son to "regress" into homosexuality, the parents claimed.

Meanwhile the counselors' case proceeded to summary judgment, and the court let Garden State Equality, an LGBT rights group and the largest civil rights organization in the state, intervene as a defendant.

U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson fully dismissed the complaint last week, finding that SOCE counseling is not protected free speech, as it "is not a means of communication to express any particular viewpoint; rather, it is a means of treatment intended to bring about a change in the mental health and psyche of the client who desires and seeks out such a change."

The judge added that "'counseling' is not entitled to special constitutional protection merely because it is primarily carried out through talk therapy."

It matters not whether there is any actual evidence of harm from gay therapy, Wolfson ruled, as "it is sufficient that the legislature could reasonably believe that SOCE conveyed no benefits and potentially caused harm to minors."

New Jersey's statute is neither unconstitutionally vague nor overbroad, and does not impermissibly target any religious belief, the ruling states.

A3371 is the country's second law of its kind, as California passed a similar one last year, which the 9th circuit upheld as constitutional days after the New Jersey counselors filed suit.

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