Court dismisses challenge to New Jersey ban on 'ex-gay' therapy

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New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie signed the bill into law last fall.

For the second time in nine months, a federal judge in New Jersey has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on gay conversion therapy.

The ruling filed on July 31 by U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson rejected the claims of a New Jersey couple who said their constitutional rights were being violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son.

Last November, Wolfson dismissed another challenge to the law filed by a group of plaintiffs that included two licensed therapists who practice what are called "sexual orientation change efforts," referred to in court filings as SOCE.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a law last year banning the therapy in New Jersey, saying at the time that the potential health risks trumped concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice. New Jersey was the second state to pass such a law; California passed a similar law in 2012, and the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a challenge to that law in June.

The unidentified New Jersey couple claimed in their suit that the state's law violated their rights to free speech and freedom of religion, as well as their 14th Amendment right to equal protection, by "denying minors the opportunity to pursue a particular course of action that can help them address the conflicts between their religious and moral values and same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity."

In her opinion, Wolfson wrote that the law doesn't impinge on free speech because it covers conduct — the therapy, specifically — and not speech. The statute doesn't restrict freedom of religion, she added, because it is neutral with respect to religion even if it "disproportionately affects those motivated by religious belief."

Finally, she cited numerous court rulings that have held that states have the right to regulate what medical or mental health treatments parents choose for their children.

"Surely, the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective," Wolfson wrote. "To find otherwise would create unimaginable and unintentional consequences."