It is a violation of state consumer fraud law to represent homosexuality as a mental disorder, a New Jersey judge has ruled in a case involving an organization offering “ex-gay” therapy.
The ruling came Tuesday in a lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, a New Jersey–based “ex-gay” group. “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,” wrote Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio, Jr.
The case is ongoing, as the question remains as to whether JONAH actually made such claims, Barsio wrote in his ruling. If a jury finds that JONAH “represented homosexuality not as a mental disorder but as ‘disordered’ and prohibited by its religion,” he wrote, the claim would be legally protected under the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.
Still, the ruling is significant, said lawyers with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the suit on behalf of former JONAH clients, in partnership with two law firms.
“This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion therapy industry,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director, in a press release. “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.”
Barsio also ruled that JONAH would be in violation of the Consumer Fraud Act if it offered 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.” SPLC lawyers said they are confident that evidence at the trial, set for June 1, will show that JONAH has indeed engaged in such misrepresentation.
Last week Barsio ruled that several proponents of “ex-gay” therapy will not be allowed to testify as expert witnesses at the trial. They include Joseph Nicolosi, a psychologist who founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, as well as other prominent voices in the movement, such as Christopher Doyle, James Phelan, and John Diggs. The judge held that their opinions are based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder, writing that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but — like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it — instead is outdated and refuted.”
A lawyer for JONAH expressed disappointment with Barsios’s rulings but said he still believes his client will win. “There’s been no finding of fault on the part of anyone and I don’t believe there will be a finding of fault on the part of anyone,” Charles S. LiMandri, president and chief counsel at the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, told the Christian Post.