- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2013

A New Jersey law banning therapies to affect the sexual orientation or gender identity of a minor has been upheld as constitutional.

The decision in federal court in Camden Friday is likely to be appealed, as two of the plaintiffs are also challenging a similar law in a federal appellate court in California.

In her Friday ruling, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson said the law did not violate constitutional rights of therapists because it only regulated conduct, not protected speech.

Arguments about the law being overly broad “are largely irrelevant,” she added.

The dismissal is a victory for the state, which enacted the law in August, and gay-rights groups, which pushed for the law.

“The court’s decision today is a huge victory for New Jersey youth. This law will save lives by protecting young people from these horrible and damaging practices,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Garden State Equality in the case, praised the court’s “clear and thorough decision” that state-licensed therapists don’t have a constitutional right to engage in “discredited practices.”

When Gov. Chris Christie signed the law, he cited concerns about government intrusion on parental rights. But — due in part to his personal beliefs that people are born gay — he could not support change-therapies for youth when there was evidence that it could be harmful.

“I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” Mr. Christie concluded.

The plaintiffs in the case, however, argued that their counseling services are needed because they honor clients’ desires to “prioritize their religious and moral values above unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, identities.”

They also argued that their services can be and are successful: Plaintiff and licensed professional counselor Tara King “is a former lesbian” who received sexual-orientation change efforts “and her life is living proof that SOCE counseling can and does work for some individuals,” said legal briefs filed by several lawyers with Liberty Counsel.

In addition to Ms. King; psychologist Ronald Newman, founder of the Christian Counseling Consortium of South Jersey; the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH); and the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) are plaintiffs in the case.

Liberty Counsel lawyers could not be immediately reached for comment Friday night.

However, these lawyers, including Demetrios Stratis and Mat Staver, have filed a second lawsuit against the New Jersey counseling law, also in Camden federal court.

Their plaintiffs this time are two unidentified parents and their 15-year-old son. The family claims that the new law is blocking the therapy that has been helping their son. They also claim the law violates their rights to free speech, freedom of religion and “equal protection,” since the law permits them and their son to receive only “gay-affirming” therapy.

A federal judge is scheduled to decide by Dec. 2 whether to grant the family a temporary injunction to stop enforcement of the law.

The New Jersey law forbids state-licensed therapists, psychologists, social workers and counselors from providing sexual-orientation change efforts to a child under age 18. It does not apply to unlicensed counselors and clergy.

Dozens of professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have expressed doubt about sexual-orientation change therapies.

The first law to outlaw change therapies for minors was enacted in California. That law is currently in a court challenge before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with NARTH and AACC as some of the plaintiffs.

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