Monday, August 26, 2013

Religious Right Angry Over New Jersey Ban on Conversion Therapy for Minors

On August 19th, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a measure that bans state-licensed mental health care professionals from practicing conversion therapy with minors, reports Reuters. The measure inspired three New York lawmakers to proposed similar legislation banning conversion therapy for minors, according to New York Daily News. Gov. Christie's decision has been applauded by LGBTQ rights activists and slammed by the Religious Right.

Conversion therapy -- often nicknamed "ex-gay therapy" -- posits that gays and lesbians can change their sexual orientation and thus become heterosexual. Such so-called therapy posits that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is inherently pathological. However, such "treatment" has long fallen out of favor with mental health professions. In a 2009 review of research on sexual orientation change efforts, the American Psychological Association concluded that "efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates." The Pan American Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and other health groups have criticized conversion therapy, while research has shown sexual orientation change efforts to be highly dubious. New Jersey's ban on conversion therapy for minors is a positive move meant to protect children and youth from homophobic quackery posing as therapy.

After Gov. Christie signed the conversion therapy ban, Liberty Counsel quickly announced its plans to file suit to challenge the legislation. In an August 19th press release, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver claimed that conversion therapy helps youth deal with same-sex attraction after being sexually victimized (!).
“This bill is so broad that parents would be prohibited from seeking help for their son who developed unwanted same-sex attractions after being molested by the likes of Jerry Sandusky. Counselors would only be allowed to affirm these unwanted feelings as good and normal. This is absurd and dangerous. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors."
Staver incorrectly attributes non-heterosexual orientations with sexual victimization, thereby making a false and dangerous correlation between gays and child abusers ("...the likes of Jerry Sandusky"). Unfortunately, plenty of homophobes worldwide cling to this toxic correlation, with vicious incidents in Australia and Russia as but two examples. Furthermore, this is not the first time Religious Right voices have invoked the Sandusky case in order to depict homosexuality as pathological or predatory. I am disgusted that Liberty Counsel would oppose legislation meant to protect minors from quackery, AND use such inflammatory language when doing so.

Sadly, Liberty Counsel is not the only Religious Right voice condemning the legislation. Other homophobic voices have criticized Gov. Christie's decision, using a plethora of homophobic myths to do so.

First, in an August 20th press release, the Family Research Council expressed disappointment with Gov. Christie's decision to sign AB 3371 into law. Peter Sprigg, the FRC's senior fellow for policy studies, claimed that the bill violates the rights of clients seeking treatment. Despite evidence to the contrary. Sprigg insisted that sexual orientation change therapy is successful, and that its risks must be weighed against the alleged "risks associated with homosexual conduct".

"The New Jersey bill strips away a core ethical principle of the counseling profession-the right of the client to set his or her own goals for therapy. Under this bill, even if a young person, the person's parents, and the therapist all agree on the goal of seeking a change in sexual orientation, the iron hand of the state will forbid it. This law tramples on the rights of minors, parents, and therapists alike."

FRCAction president Connie Mackey called the bill "a shocking invasion into the privacy of the relationship between therapist and client", defending conversion therapy as a free speech issue.
"Values voters are looking for candidates who will lead the way to preserve the right to live out one's faith.  Unfortunately, Governor Christie has decided to join with those seeking to restrict the free speech rights of those deemed to hold politically incorrect views."

In a commentary piece at World Net Daily, Linda Harvey blasts Gov. Christie for siding "with those who want to sell “gay” behavior to kids, even publicly chastising those who question it." She spoke disparagingly of anti-bullying and pro-equality efforts meant to help LGBTQ youth while hurling angry comments at Christie. In a scathing tone, Harvey repeated the myth that homosexuality springs from sexual victimization and alleged "indoctrination".
"So now Christie favors teens being denied the opportunity to overcome homosexual desires, which are not inborn but often the byproduct of early sexual exposure or molestation. No science has found a gay gene, but Christie said he believes people are born this way and that it’s not a sin.

There are only a few reasons why an alleged “conservative” politician supports such fascist left-wing schemes. Perhaps Christie doesn’t really have much of a heart for kids. If 12-year-olds are indoctrinated at school into thinking they are homosexual and end up the victims of advances by HIV-infected predators, maybe the governor is not too concerned. If New Jersey HIV incidence relating to homosexual practices continues to rise among youth, perhaps he can point to some other factor. Not his fault."
In an August 20th column at Charisma Magazine, Larry Tomczak called the bill an "erosion of parental rights" and complained that it would force "scores of counselors to withhold counseling that is consistent with their conscience and professional training." Tomczak framed conversion therapy as an alleged means of protecting children from an hypersexualized world menaced by the "gay agenda".
"Young people today face challenges in the realm of sexuality that are unparalleled in our history. When you and I were growing up with our Roman Catholic training, we never faced the avalanche of pornography and celebration of homosexuality prevailing in the media, schools, government and entertainment there is today.

Multitudes of young children and teenagers are wrestling with sexual identity as they come of age. To capitulate to the gay agenda and stonewall providing options for those who are asking for them really is unconscionable."
Tomczak proceeded to regurgitate the usual fundamentalist chestnuts about gays: no one is born gay, practicing same-sex intimacy is sinful, the "homosexual lifestyle" is fraught with health risks, ad nauseum.

In short, Religious Right voices are defending conversion therapy for minors as a free speech issue, a medical rights issue, a response to predation, and a weapon against some insidious "gay agenda". It never occurs to them that such therapy is dubious, and that it harms young people by forcing them to condemn and repress an intrinsic part of who they are.

As science demonstrates the dubious character of conversion therapy and enlightened people recognize that being LGBTQ is not unhealthy, we can expect to see bans on conversion therapy for minors in more states. However, we can expect the Religious Right -- convinced that homosexuality is pathological and determined to promote homophobia -- to resist those efforts. The struggle against this quackery will be long, but if it protects young people from dubious and harmful "treatment", it will be worthwhile.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Right Wing Watch: Focus On The Family Praises Ex-Gay Therapy, Wonders If Chris Christie Approves Of Adultery

Truth Wins Out: Homo-Cons Displeased With New Jersey Bill Banning ‘Reparative’ Therapy For Minors

The Guardian: New Jersey's ban on gay conversion therapy is a victory over religious nuts


  1. Good for Gov. Christie, although it's upsetting to think that the therapy is continues to be popular in some circles.

    1. Donna -- I'm troubled that there are still people like these who believe in conversion therapy and want to subject young people to it. Still, the NJ bill is more progress.


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