Three days after New Jersey became the second state to outlaw gay-to-straight conversion therapy for minors, it also became the second one to be sued.
The plaintiffs, in King v. Christie, filed in federal court in Trenton on Aug. 22, seek to strike down the law for violating the First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion and parallel state constitutional guarantees.
They further assert infringement of a First Amendment “right to receive information” and raise children consistent with their religious beliefs.
On Aug. 23, they moved for a temporary restraining order against implementing the law, which took effect when Gov. Chris Christie signed it Aug. 19.
They called the law “an unprecedented and unconstitutional intrusion into the sacrosanct relationship between psychotherapists and their patients.”
They also said it infringes on the right of professionals to offer and their clients to receive “counseling consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The law prohibits people licensed to provide professional counseling — psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and family therapists, and certified psychoanalysts — from trying to change the sexual orientation of a minor.
It covers efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.
But it does not encompass counseling to assist the transition from one gender to another, or that “provides acceptance, support, and understanding” or facilitates “coping, social support, identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”
The preamble declares that being gay or lesbian is not a disease or disorder, notes the lack of evidence that attempts to alter sexual orientation are effective or beneficial, and discusses findings that conversion counseling can create confusion, depression and suicidal behavior, among other harmful effects.
The sponsors — Democratic Assemblymen Timothy Eustace, Herb Conaway Jr., Reed Gusciora and John Burzichelli — have said the practice has been condemned by the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association.
Christie said he signed the law despite his concerns about limiting parental choice, based on professional groups’ concerns about potential harm.
Exposing “children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these risks is not appropriate,” he stated.
Demetrios Stratis, of Ruta, Soulios & Stratis in Fair Lawn, filed the case on behalf of four plaintiffs.
Two are individuals: Dr. Tara King, a licensed counselor who runs the King of Hearts Counseling Center in Brick, and Dr. Ronald Newman, a psychologist and founder of the Christian Counseling Consortium of South Jersey.
The other two are plaintiffs in the California suit: the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, incorporated in Utah, and the American Association of Christian Counselors, based in Virginia, which claims 50,000 members in New Jersey.
The defendants are Christie, Division of Consumer Affairs Director Eric Kanefsky, and the heads of the state licensing boards for doctors, psychologists and family therapists.
On Tuesday, the parties agreed to convert the motion into one for summary judgment, and U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson set an Oct. 1 hearing date.
Wolfson also granted pro hac vice admission to Matthew Staver and Daniel Schmid of Liberty Counsel, the group behind the challenge in California, the first state to adopt a conversion-therapy ban.
The Orlando, Fla.-based nonprofit describes itself as “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.”
Christie did not respond to a request for comment.
The attack on the California law failed on Thursday when the U.S. Court of appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the law does not violate the free speech rights of therapists or minors or the fundamental rights of parents and is not vague or overbroad.
Litigation over the issue goes both ways.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit, brought a consumer fraud action last year against a Jersey City organization that purports to help turn gays straight — Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH).
On July 19, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso denied a motion to dismiss Ferguson v. JONAH, L-5473-12, for failure to state a claim.