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New Jersey court ruling another blow to gay conversion therapies

Echoing a similar ruling in California earlier this year, a New Jersey judge has upheld the state’s ban on so-called gay conversion therapies for minors.

In August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill outlawing the controversial therapies, making the Garden State the second to do so after California. California’s ban, which was passed in 2012, was upheld in federal court in August.

The New Jersey law prevents any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselor from using sexual orientation change efforts with children under age 18.

The lawsuit challenging the New Jersey ban was filed by two therapists, the National Assn. for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the American Assn. for of Christian Counselors.

The suit, filed days after Gov. Chris Christie signed the measure into law, said  the law limits their ability to provide conversion treatments to those who want them. 

U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson wrote in her opinion Friday that the plaintiffs' allegation that the ban infringes on 1st Amendment rights “runs counter to the long-standing principle that a state generally may enact laws rationally regulating professionals, including those providing medicine and mental health services.”

She added that nothing in the law “prevents licensed professionals from voicing their opinions on the appropriateness or efficacy of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, either in public or private settings.”

In August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals similarly concluded that California's ban did not violate the free speech rights of patients or professionals, and that the state maintains the right to prohibit treatment it deems harmful.

"A regulation of only treatment itself — whether physical medicine or mental health treatment — implicates free speech interests only incidentally, if at all," the court concluded.

The judges also stressed that mental health professionals could still express their views about these therapies. 

Christie, a Republican who is considered a presidential contender in 2016, cited the American Psychological Assn., saying it "found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts." "I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate," he said in August.

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Twitter: @skarlamangla

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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