New Jersey Judge Rules Ex-Gay Conversion Therapy is Consumer Fraud

For the first time ever, a United States judge has affirmed what the American Psychiatric Association has been saying since 1973: Homosexuality is not a mental illness.

Michele Bachmann is one of the nation’s biggest proponents of “praying the gay away.” Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Judge Peter F. Barsio Jr. of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled last week against the conversion therapy provider Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH). Here’s the official ruling, short and sweet:

It is a misrepresentation in violation of [New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act], in advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent thereof.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the consumer fraud lawsuit against JONAH, “the group used deceptive practices to lure plaintiffs into their costly services for gay-to-straight therapy that can cost in excess of $10,000 a year.”

“This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion therapy industry,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “For the first time, a court has ruled that it is fraudulent as a matter of law for conversion therapists to tell clients that they have a mental disorder that can be cured. This is the principal lie the conversion therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients. Gay people don’t need to be cured, and we are thrilled that the court has recognized this.”

It is no longer necessary to explain why conversion therapy is harmful, traumatic, and certainly not effective, and the list of reputable medical and psychological organizations who have denounced the practice is lengthy. Major Christian organizations pushing conversion therapy have shut down, ex-gay leaders have come out as not really ex-gay after all, and two states plus Washington, D.C. have passed laws banning the practice for minors. The conversion therapy movement is fading fast.

In addition to somehow being the first time a court clarifies that being gay isn’t an illness, this case is significant because it approaches conversion therapy through an ethical business lens:

The judge also ruled that JONAH is in violation of the Consumer Fraud Act if it offers specific success statistics for its services when “client outcomes are not tracked and no records of client outcomes are maintained” because “there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics.” Evidence at the upcoming trial this summer will show that JONAH has misrepresented that their conversion therapy works based on bogus statistics.

“The judge’s determination today that it is a misrepresentation to tell consumers that homosexuality is a disorder is an important step forward in this case and also a victory for showing that conversion therapy proponents lack any valid basis to continue to promote their abusive practices,” said SPLC co-counsel James L. Bromley, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. “The harmful myth that gay people are sick or damaged belongs in the dustbin of history.” 

The SPLC as well as the National Center for Lesbian Rights’s #BornPerfect campaign are working to make sure we see more decisions like this one as soon as possible, and that laws banning conversion therapy are inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Too many LGBT youth have already suffered at the hands of unrelenting parents and bogus doctors. This can’t wait.

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