A federal court in New Jersey ruled on Friday the recently signed law barring “ex-gay” sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors in the state is constitutional.
U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, upheld the law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in August on the basis that the law restricts neither speech nor religious freedom.
In the 66-page decision, Wolfson writes the arguments presented by plaintiffs are “counter to the longstanding principle that a state generally may enact laws rationally regulating professionals, including those providing medicine and mental health services.”
Additionally, the judge granted a request by Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBT group in New Jersey, to intervene in the case to defend the law.
Wolfson issued the ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the Liberty Counsel on behalf of practitioners in New Jersey who practice “ex-gay” therapy, which is widely discredited by mainstream psychological groups, and fringe psychological groups that have endorsed it.
LGBT advocates who worked to pass the law hailed the decision as an affirmation the law protects LGBT youth in New Jersey.
Troy Stevenson, executive cirector of Garden State Equality, called the ruling “a huge victory for New Jersey youth.”
“This law will save lives by protecting young people them from these horrible and damaging practices,” Stevenson said.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, represented Garden State Equality in the lawsuit and praised the decision.
“This law protects youth from practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health professional organizations,” Minter said. “The court issued a clear and thorough decision explaining that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that do not improve patients’ health and put young people at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide.”
The ruling comes in the wake of a second lawsuit that was filed against the law by an unidentified New Jersey couple who argue the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son.
In August, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar a law in California barring “ex-gay” conversion therapy for minors signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.). A similar bill that would ban the practice in D.C. has been introduced by Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Mat Staver, chair of the Liberty Counsel, told the Washington Blade via email on Monday that his organization “has already” filed an appeal of the decision.
“Since this is an unprecedented intrusion on counselors and clients and restricts what they can say or hear, we believe this law will be overturned on appeal,” Staver said. “If necessary we will take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled the names of Judge Freda Wolfson and Troy Stevenson. The Blade regrets the error. The article has also been updated to include to quote from Mat Staver.