A federal appeals court today agreed with a lower court ruling that upheld New Jersey’s ban on the practice of “ex-gay” therapy on minors.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled unanimously that the law, enacted last year, “does not violate the First Amendment and that the State of New Jersey was entitled to prohibit these discredited practices in order to protect minors from harm,” according to a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is defending the law, along with private attorneys and New Jersey’s attorney general.
The law bars state-licensed therapists from using “sexual orientation change efforts” on people under the age of 18. The law defines this as “seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”
In the court’s ruling, Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote, “Over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE, expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm. … Many such organizations have also concluded that there is no credible evidence that SOCE counseling is effective.”
The Third Circuit’s ruling agrees with that of a U.S. district court in New Jersey, which in November found that the law is an appropriate regulation of mental health professionals and does not interfere with freedom of speech or religious expression. It is the second appellate court to uphold a ban on “ex-gay” therapy; in August 2013 the Ninth Circuit upheld a similar law in California, and this year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that decision, letting it stand. So far New Jersey and California are the only states to enact such laws, but others have considered them.
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which supports efforts to change people's sexual orientation, brought the challenge to the New Jersey law, along with individual therapists. They are represented by the right-wing legal groups Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom as well as private attorneys. There is no word yet on whether NARTH and the other plaintiffs will appeal further.