By a vote of 56-14-7, the full Assembly on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly members Tim Eustace, Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Reed Gusciora and John Burzichelli that would ban the controversial practice known as “conversion therapy” for minors in New Jersey.
The measure (A-3371) is designed to protect minors from being forced to undergo the scientifically unfounded practice in an attempt to change their sexual orientation.
“Studies and personal testimony have shown this practice creates irreparable harm on young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Forcing someone to deny their innate feelings and their very existence has led to depression, suicidal tendencies and other untold harm. Leading psychological professionals agree that this practice has no place in legitimate mental health therapies.”
The sponsors noted that the practice has been condemned by the three of the nation’s leading mental health associations – the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association, among other groups – as well as one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists – Dr. Robert Spitzer – who initially published a study supporting the practice nearly a dozen years ago.
“All of the leading mental health associations in this country have discounted this practice in favor of positive reinforcements,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “The benefits of the practice are unfounded and, in fact, it has proven to do more harm than good in many cases. Our youth should not be forced to undergo such clinically disparaged practices.”
Specifically, the bill would prohibit counseling to change the sexual orientation of a minor. Under the provisions of the bill, a person who provides professional counseling, including, but not limited to, a psychiatrist, licensed practicing psychologist, certified social worker, licensed clinical social worker, licensed social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified psychoanalyst, or a person who performs counseling as part of their professional training, shall not engage in “sexual orientation change efforts” with a person under 18 years of age.
“The jury has been in for decades and every mainstream mental health organization agrees that same-sex attraction is not a disease in need of a cure,” said Gusciora. “To treat it otherwise is not just counterproductive, but downright dangerous, having been known to cause suicides or suicidal thoughts in those forced to suppress their innate identity.”
The bill defines “sexual orientation change efforts” as the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or to reduce or eliminate sexual romantic attractions, feelings, or behaviors because those attractions, feelings, or behavior are directed toward a person of a particular gender or both genders.
“We have countless laws designed to protect minors from harm,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “If a legal adult wants to pursue this practice despite its invalidity, that is their choice, but minors should not be forced to undergo a scientifically unfounded and potentially harmful practice against their will.”
California recently passed a similar ban that is now being challenged in court while three other states – Massachusetts, Washington, and Pennsylvania – have similar measures pending.
The bill now awaits final legislative consideration by the full Senate before heading to the Governor’s desk.