Two New Jersey parents are suing Gov. Chris Christie for signing into law restrictions on reparative therapy, the controversial practice of counseling gays and lesbians in an effort to turn them straight.
The parents filed suit in federal court Friday, claiming their constitutional rights are being impeded because the law — which places restrictions on counseling for minors — prevents them from seeking conversion treatment for their 15-year-old son, the Associated Press reported.
The unidentified couple is arguing that their free speech and religious rights have been trampled and that the law impedes their 14th Amendment right to equal protection, because their teenager’s “unwanted gender identity disorder” conflicts with the family’s moral and religious views, the AP reported.
The lawsuit says the teen began thinking of himself more as a girl than a boy and subsequently displayed female mannerisms. Around the age of 12 or 13, he began to have same-sex attraction, which the family claims led to depression and suicidal thoughts.
The parents began bringing the teen to a social worker in New York who they say truly helped reduce the boy’s homosexual feelings. The social worker recommended the family meet with a psychotherapist to go further, but when they called Ronald Newman, a conversion therapist, the parents were told that conversion therapy for minors was banned as of Aug. 19, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported.
This is the second case surrounding the restrictions, which were signed into law by Christie, a Republican. A separate lawsuit involves Newman and Tara King, another licensed therapist, joined by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Association for of Christian Counselors.
Mat Staver, founder of the conservative Liberty Counsel, the group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family, spoke out against the ban in a statement Tuesday.
“Before states began passing legislation banning change therapy, the treatment was driven by the minor’s desired outcome. Our client and his family were on the way to that desired outcome, until Governor Christie signed a law prohibiting further treatment,” he said, going on to call the ban “a horrible government intrusion into personal healthcare and counseling choices.”
While Christie signed the law, he acknowledged concerns over government overreach and its impact on parental choice. Before signing it, TheBlaze reported, the governor had made it known he was personally conflicted over the issue.
“I’m of two minds just on this stuff in general. Number one, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children,” Christie said. “Generally philosophically, on bills that restrict parents ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, I’m generally a skeptic of those bills.”
Much of the opposition surrounding conversion therapy has to do with medical professionals’ mainstream views on it.
The American Psychological Association explicitly addresses the issue on its website, noting that “all major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation.”
According to the premiere authority on psychology, there is no scientific evidence that change therapy is safe or beneficial for patients. The American Psychological Association specifically warns that promoting these therapies actually leads to a “negative” environment for gays and lesbians.
One of the sticking points that the law’s opponents raise is that much of the research that the law is based on involves adults and not children.
“The legislature, in enacting this legislation, relied on reports that this was harmful,” Demetrios Stratis, a lawyer involved in both cases, told the AP. “We believe that the literature and reports are not accurate and what the legislation relied on is erroneous and that there are constitutional implications.”
The unidentified couple is seeking a preliminary injunction that would halt the law from being enforced and nominal damages for legal fees. Read more about the case here.