A New Jersey law banning "gay-to-straight conversion" therapy for minors will stay in place with the U.S Supreme Court on Monday refusing to upturn a September ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the validity of a law the state of New Jersey passed in August 2013 prohibiting state-licensed counselors from offering therapy services that try to change a minor’s sexual orientation.
Signed by the Republican Governor Chris Christie, the 2013 law made New Jersey the second state to prohibit licensed counselors from attempting to change the sexual orientation of gay minors, after California. New Jersey’s law explicitly says being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming, something major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers have recognized for nearly 40 years. As far back as in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, but various conservative and religious groups have since argued that sexual orientation can be changed
Christie has said the treatment "can pose critical health risks" for children, such as "depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts."
The appeals court in its September 2014 ruling had held that the ban which the Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie signed into law in August 2013, did not violate the free speech or religious rights of counselors offering "gay conversion therapy" to convert homosexual minors into heterosexuals.
Plaintiffs challenging the New Jersey ban included two counselors, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the . They argued that New Jersey’s law violates their state and federal rights to free speech and freedom of religion under the First Amendment.
On behalf of their minor clients, the two licensed therapists, Tara King and Ronald Newman further argued that New Jersey’s law interferes with clients' rights to determine their own sexual identity and parents' fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children.
The U.S. Supreme court however declined to hear a challenge to New Jersey’s law, meaning that the September verdict of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the ban is the final word on the matter. As is its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not give reasons for declining to hear the appeal.
In her opinion, Circuit Court Judge Freda Wolfson had said that the New Jersey law regulates conduct, not speech. There is “no indication in the record that religion was a motivating factor for passing the law,” she added.
“From its plain language, the law does not seek to target or burden religious practices or beliefs,” she wrote. “Rather, it bars all licensed mental health providers from engaging in [conversion therapy] with minors, regardless of whether that provider or the minor seeking [conversion therapy] is motivated by religion or motivated by any other purpose.”
The ruling comes as the top court is in the midst of deliberations over whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in the United States.