Liberty Counsel Will Sue to Stop NJ Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy

It was inevitable. The theocratic backlash against Chris Christie has begun. Liberty Counsel is suing to put a stop to New Jersey’s new law banning gay conversion therapy for minors. In a press release yesterday, Liberty Counsel accused Governor Chris Christie of harming children:

Trenton, NJ — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to sign A3371 today, barring licensed therapists from helping children overcome unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior, or identity. This law will prohibit minors and their parents from receiving counseling they desire and will force counselors to violate ethical codes because they will not be able to help clients reach their own counseling goals. Liberty Counsel will file suit seeking to block this law.

“The New Jersey governor is putting himself in every counseling room, dictating what kind of counseling clients can receive,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “This bill provides a slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”

“This bill is so broad that parents would be prohibited from seeking help for their son who developed unwanted same-sex attractions after being molested by the likes of Jerry Sandusky. Counselors would only be allowed to affirm these unwanted feelings as good and normal. This is absurd and dangerous. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors,” said Staver.

A3371 prohibits only one viewpoint regarding change counseling and, therefore, constitutes viewpoint discrimination. No viewpoint-based restriction on private speech has ever been upheld. The Supreme Court ruled that “the First Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.”

Gov. Christie has reportedly said that he is siding with the “experts,” referring to the American Psychological Association’s 2009 Task Force Report cited by the legislature in support of the law. But that Task Force Report specifically states that there is evidence of benefit of such counseling, and any such reports to the contrary were only anecdotal. The Report also states that there is no research – none – regarding the effects of change therapy involving minors. “How can you ban counseling to minors where there is no evidence of harm to minors. Indeed, there is no research on minors at all. This law is politically, not scientifically, motivated,” said Staver.

New Jersey counselors, parents of minors receiving change therapy counseling, and national counseling organizations have contacted Liberty Counsel. Liberty Counsel will immediately file suit. Liberty Counsel is currently litigating a case challenging California Senate Bill 1172, which is virtually identical to A3371, and has obtained an injunction against that law from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.

Liberty Counsel’s claims about the APA and the imagined effectiveness of gay conversion therapy are demonstrably false. The APA says no such thing. In fact, a 2009 report by the APA titled Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, says gay conversion therapy is not one of those appropriate responses: it does not work.

The “benefits” Liberty Counsel obliquely references? Says the 2009 report (p. 52):

The benefits include social and spiritual support, a lessening of isolation, an understanding of values and faith and sexual orientation identity reconstruction.

Nowhere does the APA says, as LC implies, that the benefits include gay conversion therapy actually working.

The claim made by Liberty Counsel that the APA did not reference the risk to minors is a lie:

“Our concern,” stated Douglas Haldeman, Ph.D., President of APA’s Society for the Psychological Study Of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues, “is that a person, especially a young person, who enters into therapy to deal with issues of sexual orientation should be able to have the expectation that such therapy would take place in a professionally neutral environment absent of any societal bias. Additionally, therapists should be providing clients with accurate information about same-sex sexual orientation. This resolution reasserts the profession’s commitment to those two principles.”

Clearly, gay conversion therapy does not take place in a neutral environment, nor does it provide clients with accurate information about sex-sex sexual orientation.

In fact, if you look at the APA’s 1997 resolution, you see the concern for children features quite prominently:

Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about same-gender sexual orientation put some gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning individuals at risk for presenting for “conversion” treatment due to family or social coercion and/or lack of information (Haldeman, 1994);

Whereas children and youth experience significant pressure to conform with sexual norms, particularly from their peers;

Whereas children and youth often lack adequate legal protection from coercive treatment;

Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder (e.g., Socarides et al, 1997);

Whereas the ethics, efficacy, benefits, and potential for harm of therapies that seek to reduce or eliminate same-gender sexual orientation are under extensive debate in the professional literature and the popular media (Davison, 1991; Haldeman, 1994; Wall Street Journal, 1997);

Therefore be it resolved that APA affirms the following principles with regard to treatments to alter sexual orientation…

Far from ignoring children, the resolution’s conclusion specifically mentions them:

Therefore be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.

And the 2009 report concludes on page 79 – and it does not mince words here – that,

We found no empirical evidence that providing any type of therapy in childhood can alter adult same-sex sexual orientation.

Specifically, the APA condemns the use of these therapies on children:

[W]e were asked to comment on the presence of adolescent inpatient facilities that offer coercive treatment designed to change sexual orientation or the behavioral expression of sexual orientation. We found that serious questions are raised by involuntary and coercive interventions and residential centers for adolescents due to their advocacy of treatments that have no scientific basis and potential for harm due to coercion, stigmatization, inappropriateness of treatment level and type, and restriction of liberty. Although the prevalence of these treatment centers is unknown, we recommend that some form of oversight be established for such youth facilities, such as licensure and monitoring, especially as a means of reporting abuse or neglect.

There you have it.

According to Liberty Counsel, the APA’s resolution is political rather than scientific.

Mat Staver’s objections to the law are worth noting. Coming from a group that advocates putting the itself in every doctor’s office in order to dictate to women of reproductive health choices, the accusation that Christie is dictating counseling choices is rich indeed.

It should also be noted that Staver tries to make the lack of research an argument FOR rather than AGAINST gay conversion therapies. He feels his religious beliefs should be exempt from the requirement for pesky facts to prove a treatment works. His belief that it does should be enough for everybody.

And in light of Staver’s desire to see homosexuality outlawed, complaints about freedoms seem very empty indeed.

In point of fact, Staver recipient of the Ex-Gay Pride Freedom Award (I know, right?) is a quack defending quackery, supporting these positions:

  • Gays should be exported from the country;
  • The federal government must be overthrown if it allows gay marriage;
  • “Moral perverts” need to be kept out of the military;
  • There is nothing “conservative” about “one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it ‘love'”;
  • Homosexual behavior ought to be outlawed;
  • Gay sex ought to carry criminal penalties;
  • Gays ought to be prohibited from serving in public office;
  • Gay sex is domestic terrorism;
  • “Hitler recruited around him homosexuals to make up his Stormtroopers … [because] homosexual soldiers basically had no limits [to] the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict.”

And now he is whining that he can’t mess with little kids’ heads. As you can see, he is really not somebody who should be citing the First Amendment at anybody, wanting to strip rights away from others with one hand while claiming extra rights for himself with the other.

What this lawsuit amounts to is that defenders of gay conversion therapies want an exemption to the scientific underpinnings of our shared reality. Chris Christie said no, you are not exempt from reality, and it is to be hoped that every other state in the Union (Massachusetts and New York are considering similar bans) will join California and New Jersey in banning these dangerous therapies.

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