New Jersey

Federal appeals court upholds N.J. ban on conversion therapy for LGBT youth

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013. Staff Reports

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the  National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

Protesters demonstrate outside a gathering for the National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2013.

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a New Jersey law prohibiting therapists from performing the controversial “gay to straight” conversion therapy on LGBT youth.

The lawsuit, filed by two therapists, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the American Association of Christian Counselors, argued the law violates their right to free speech because counselors are barred from talking about conversion therapy.

Plaintiffs also argued that it infringed upon the right to exercise religion and parents to “direct the upbringing and education of their children according to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

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But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed, affirming the District Court ruling from November 2013, which determined that the plaintiffs’ argument “runs counter to the longstanding principle that a state generally may enact laws rationally regulating professionals, including those providing medicine and mental health services.”

“A licensed professional’s speech is not afforded the full scope of First Amendment protection when it occurs as part of the practice of a profession,” the court said, and therefore can be held to a different level of scrutiny.

As such, the Third Circuit determined the law, A3371, is rationally related to a legitimate government interest:

The legislative record demonstrates that over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts), expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm.

Among others, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Pan American Health Organization have warned of the “great” or “serious” health risks accompanying SOCE counseling, including depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, and suicidality.

[…]

We conclude that this evidence is substantial. … We therefore conclude that A3371 “directly advances” New Jersey’s stated interest in protecting minor citizens from harmful professional practices.

The court also granted a motion to assign a related case to the same panel that decided this case.

In that case, a New Jersey couple claims their constitutional rights are being violated because the law prevents them from seeking conversion therapy treatment for their 15-year-old son. Their challenge was dismissed in July, and appealed to the Third Circuit.

New Jersey was the second state to pass a ban on conversion therapy for minors; California passed a similar law in 2012, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to that law in June.

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