N.J. Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy Faces Lawsuit [Video]
“The therapists told my parents, at the time, that I was at risk of being pre-homsexual,” says Mordechai Levovitz, a gay social worker in New York. “And there are things that they can do to stop me from turning gay.”
He founded an organization called Jewish Queer Youth or JQY.
“I was hearing pain. I was hearing frustration, I was hearing shame. The conversion therapy was actually causing them the anxiety and the trauma.”
Every day, Levovitz hears horror stories about members who have undergone gay conversion therapy.
It was stories like those that convinced the New Jersey legislature to pass a law banning the practice that has been called unscientific by some and child abuse by others.
“There have been many reported instances of, especially teenagers who go through the program. Parents send them to this program and they come out. They are still gay but instead of building the child up, they tear the child down and they devalue them,” says Reed Gusciora, a New Jersey state legislator.
The so-called “therapy” has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association. which states, “altering sexual orientation is not an appropriate goal of psychiatric treatment.”
New Jersey became the second state to ban gay conversion therapy in August 2013. It has been the law in California since the beginning of 2013 and it was recently upheld by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, New Jersey’s law has also been legally challenged.
While supporters say that the ban protects the civil rights of children, there are some religious groups that have filed suit. They claim that it abridges their First Amendment freedoms and violates parents’ rights.
“This kind of a law is unprecedented in the sense that it puts the state in between the counselor and the client,” says Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which is representing counselors and their clients in the New Jersey appeal.
“From the counselor standpoint, they have First Amendment free speech and also free exercise of religion. From the client’s and particularly from the parent standpoint as well, we are looking at it from also a right to receive information and a right to free exercise of religion,” says Staver.
“We don’t mean to interfere with any religious teachings or religious counseling, that can remain, but this is for a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist should not be offering gay conversion therapy in the state,” says Gusciora.
Staver and his clients see the case going to the highest court in the land.
“I think this kind of a case though, has Supreme Court written all over it, because it has never happened in the history of counseling where the state has told counselors that they can only offer one viewpoint,” says Staver.
Pennsylvania and Ohio are considering similar legislation and Liberty Counsel promises to file suit should any other states enact a ban. In Trenton, N.J., this is Ed Alpern for Lawyers.com.