- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2015

A New Jersey jury on Thursday convicted a Jewish nonprofit organization of consumer fraud for telling gay men that their counselors could help them become heterosexual.

The seven-person jury also ordered Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) to pay about $72,000 to the three men and to two mothers.

The closely watched case is seen as a milestone for efforts to outlaw sexual-orientation change efforts, sometimes called “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy.” People often seek the therapy to reduce their unwanted same-sex attractions.

Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, said he would increase his efforts to work with gay rights advocates and pass a federal law to “end conversion therapy in America once and for all.”

“Today’s momentous verdict validates two basic principles: Fraud is fraud, and love is love,” said Mr. Lieu, who wrote the first-in-the-nation ban on conversion therapy for minors in 2012. New Jersey, Oregon and the District now have such bans.

“Conversion therapy and homophobia are based on the same central lie — that gay people are broken and need to be fixed,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center and lead counsel for plaintiffs Michael Ferguson, Chaim Levin, Benjamin Unger, Bella Levin and Jo Bruck.

But Charles LiMandri, leader of Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund and lead attorney for JONAH, its co-founder, Arthur Goldberg, and affiliated counselor Alan Downing said, “This case is not over.”

“This is a sad day, not just for my clients, but for America: Our freedom to choose to live according to biblical values is being restricted by powerful forces, which, in this case, included the refusal to allow highly qualified expert witnesses to testify that change is possible for many people,” Mr. LiMandri said. “We will seek justice on appeal.”

In the three-week trial before Hudson County Superior Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr., plaintiff testimony accused JONAH leaders of falsely promising that they could turn homosexuals into heterosexuals through counseling, workshops and other methods, such as having gay men spend more time naked with their fathers.

Testimony from defense experts explained that when people are addicted to promiscuous sex and pornography, therapists seek ways to help them see nudity as familiar, normal and “nonsexual.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also said JONAH lied about having a two-thirds “success” rate and used counseling methods that had no scientific basis.

Mr. LiMandri and his colleagues said JONAH didn’t make guarantees about its referral services. They also brought in several witnesses who testified about how JONAH had changed their lives for the better and allowed them to greatly reduce their sexual attractions to other men.

The jury unanimously ruled that the JONAH defendants misrepresented the program and engaged in “unconscionable commercial practices.”

The damages from ascertainable losses, which ranged from $17,950 for Mr. Unger to $500 for Ms. Bruck, whose son briefly undertook counseling from a JONAH therapist, were tripled to $72,400.

Judge Bariso will rule later on the plaintiffs’ request to revoke JONAH’s license. The lawsuit was brought under New Jersey consumer fraud law.

The plaintiffs, who are from devout Jewish or Mormon families, said they sought JONAH’s services because they needed to overcome their same-sex attractions in order to successfully marry a woman and have children.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has a campaign against conversion therapy, noted that the verdict came a day after President Obama condemned the practice.

“I support efforts to ban conversion therapy for minors. It has no basis in science. Every young person — no matter who they are or what they look like or what gender they identify as — deserves to be valued and loved for who they are,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday at the annual White House LGBT Pride reception.

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