NEWARK, N.J. – New Jersey's law banning so-called gay conversion therapy is facing another court challenge, this time from a couple who claim their constitutional rights are being violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son.
The suit filed in federal court in Camden on Friday is at least the second to attack the law. A separate suit that names two licensed therapists among its plaintiffs awaits a judge's ruling, said Demetrios Stratis, an attorney involved in both cases.
The law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in August bars licensed therapists from trying to turn gay teenagers straight. At the time he signed it, Christie said the health risks of trying to change a child's sexual orientation, as identified by the American Psychological Association, outweigh concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice, though he added that government "should tread carefully into this area."
Last year, California became the first state to pass a similar law, and a federal appeals court upheld it in August against a constitutional challenge.
The unidentified New Jersey couple claim in their suit that the law violates 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."
Stratis said there is another, perhaps less abstract, rationale for stopping the law: The research it relies on is faulty or incomplete. An APA report on "appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation" conceded that minors were underrepresented in the research and that there was a lack of scientifically sound research on the issue, the lawsuit claims.
"The Legislature, in enacting this legislation, relied on reports that this was harmful," Stratis said. "We believe that the literature and reports are not accurate and what the legislation relied on is erroneous and that there are constitutional implications."
According to the lawsuit, the teen suffers from "unwanted gender identity disorder and unwanted same-sex attractions" and has contemplated suicide. It goes on to describe how he "began to think he would like himself much better if he was a girl" and attempted to display female mannerisms and expressions. He also began to develop feelings of same-sex attractions at age 12 or 13, and that his depression worsened to the point that he began to have thoughts of killing himself "nearly all day long, every single day."
"John Doe has a sincerely held religious belief and conviction that homosexuality is wrong and immoral, and he wanted to address that value conflict because his unwanted same-sex attractions and gender confusion are contrary to the fundamental religious values that he holds," the lawsuit contends.
The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the law from being enforced plus "nominal damages" and attorneys' fees. A federal judge is scheduled to decide by Dec. 2 whether to grant the injunction.
A spokesman for the state attorney general's office said in an email that the office hadn't seen the complaint yet and declined to comment.