New Jersey Conversion Therapy Ban Upheld; Oregon, Illinois Pass Bills

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
July 30, 2015



therapyMay turned out to be a busy month for efforts to end the practice of conversion therapy for minors.

The first activity was by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear a challenge to the conversion therapy ban for minors in New Jersey. During the same week, the Oregon Legislature voted to prohibit the controversial practice. By the end of the month, Illinois passed similar legislation, which has not been signed by the state’s new Republican governor.

Other activities to ban the practice of conversion therapy nationwide began in Congress.
The court’s decision upheld a September 2014 ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the new law did not violate the free speech or religious rights of counselors offering gay conversion therapy to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. It marked the second time the nation’s high court chose not to disturb lower court rulings banning the therapy for children under 18.

In June 2014 the court declined to hear an appeal from an 8th District Court in San Francisco upholding the constitutionality of a 2012 California law ending the practice of conversion therapy for minors.

Opponents of both measures, including the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association of Christian Counselors, had pinned their hopes on a minor disagreement between the two circuit courts over whether the laws unconstitutionally violated free speech rights. Both courts ruled free speech rights were not violated, but used different theories in explaining why.

Oregon enacted its ban on conversion therapy for minors, making it the third state to do so. Washington, D.C., has also outlawed the practice. The Illinois House of Representatives defeated similar legislation during its previous session, but enacted the bill to ban conversion therapy by state licensed mental health professionals by a 68-42 margin the second time around.  In the Illinois State Senate, the vote to approve was 34-19.

As it did in the last legislative session, the New York General Assembly voted to ban conversion therapy by a wide margin, but no action has yet been taken by the State Senate, which refused to consider it in 2014.

The Iowa State Senate also enacted a conversion therapy ban during the current legislative session, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has not yet decided to bring the measure to the floor.

In Washington State, the lower  chamber approved banning conversion therapy 60-37, but the measure was defeated in the State Senate 22-27. The Nevada State Senate approved similar legislation by a 14-5 vote, but no action has been taken in the lower house.

In a related development, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, has requested that the Federal Trade Commission undertake an investigation into the “potentially unfair or deceptive claims and advertising practices of therapists who administer conversion therapy.”

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ted Lieu, both California Democrats, introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which proposes a nationwide ban on conversion therapy for persons younger than 18. Lieu, a freshman representative, was the chief sponsor of the bill to ban conversion therapy in California.

In another related development, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s suit against the religious conversion therapy provider JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) got under way in early June in New Jersey Superior Court. The suit charges the practices are a form of fraud under the state’s consumer protection act.

The judge in the case has already ruled that JONAH may not represent homosexuality as a disorder and promoting someone’s sexual orientation as an ailment that can be cured violates the state’s consumer protection laws.

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