Battle Over 'Gay Therapy' Taken to Court

Judges in California, New Jersey consider the validity of "gay conversion therapy."

California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a Nov. 16, 2012 news conference in Los Angeles.
By + More

Ex-gay therapists, who attempt to convert people with "unwanted same-sex attractions" to heterosexuality, are headed to courts across the country to keep their controversial practices alive.

In California, four so-called "reparative therapy" practitioners and two families head to court Friday to ask a federal judge to block a recently-passed California law cracking down on the practice, the Sacramento Bee reports. And in New Jersey, four gay former patients have sued a therapy provider for fraud and deceptive practices, according to CNN.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in September that banned the therapy from being used on minors. But two families who claim their sons have benefitted from the therapy and two organizations that support the practice are bringing an injunction against the law, the first of its kind, in order to delay its Jan. 1. implementation.

[RELATED: Ohio Students Ordered to Remove Rainbow Shirts]

The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, one of the plaintiffs in the case, views the law as an intrusion on the rights of parents and says homosexuality is "primarily developmental in origin, and it is — to differing degrees — responsive to psychotherapeutic measures."

In her court filings, California Attorney General Kamala Harris writes that the law is based on scientific consensus that "homosexuality is not a disease, condition, or disorder in need of a 'cure.'" Her statement went on to say that the injunction would subject minors to a practice that "the state and every major mental health organization in the country have condemned as an outmoded, ineffective, and potentially dangerous relic from an era when homosexuality was pathologized and criminalized," according to the Bee.

In New Jersey, four former clients of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against the group, saying the therapy wrongfully made them believe that "being gay is a mental disorder" and did so using methods that caused "depression and other emotional harm."

[READ: New HIV Infections Highest in Young Gay Males]

"These counselors are skilled at manipulating you into believing just about anything," said Benjamin Unger, a plaintiff in the case. "During my time with JONAH, they told me constantly that my mom had made me gay. I was so convinced that I refused to have any contact with her for several months, which caused a great deal of damage to our relationship."

In the complaint, which they filed through the Southern Poverty Law Center, the plaintiffs describe many of the controversial "treatments" administered by JONAH for "re-orientation." The treatments including nude group therapy sessions, telling patients to beat and verbally assault effigies of their mothers, as well as recommending patients to shower privately with their fathers, as well as in public at gyms and bath houses with other men, to simulate being nude with their fathers.

JONAH maintains that the practice "helps to assess and overcome deep issues" with its patients.

[SEE ALSO: Gay National Guardsman, Partner Are White House 'Treemasters']

"The lawsuit is without merit, and is designed to create a chilling effect upon speech and programs that assist people in overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions," the group said in a statement.

Arthur Goldberg, JONAH's co-director, said in the statement that he and the organization "remain steadfast in our commitment to assist those with unwanted same-sex attractions."

The suit aims to revoke JONAH's business license, to place a permanent injunction against JONAH's staff from practicing ex-gay therapy, and to recoup the costs of the therapy as well as pay for the cost of "repairing damage resulting from [JONAH's] unlawful acts."

More Political News:

  • First Female Veterans Prepare to Join Congress
  • Mr. De Niro And Tina Fey Go To Washington
  • Pro-Tax 'Patriotic Millionaires': Voluntary Payment 'a Joke'
  • Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at