Is This The Beginning Of The End For Conversion Therapy?

In early February, a state court judge in New Jersey struck a blow to the defense in a case involving so called conversion therapy — counseling designed, supporters say, to change a person from homosexual to heterosexual — by ruling such groups were misrepresenting their services under a state consumer fraud law.
In a Feb. 10 ruling, Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. found that it "is a misrepresentation in violation of (New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act), in advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder or equivalent thereof."
The ruling is part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). That organization offers services to supposedly help people overcome their homosexuality and become heterosexual. SPLC filed the suit claiming the organization engaged in activities which violated the state's consumer fraud law.
"This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion therapy industry," said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. "For the first time, a court has ruled that it is fraudulent as a matter of law for conversion therapists to tell clients that they have a mental disorder that can be cured. This is the principal lie the conversion therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients. Gay people don't need to be cured, and we are thrilled that the court has recognized this."
Jack Drescher, a New York based psychiatrist, welcomed the ruling.
"For the past twenty years, conversion therapists and so-called ex-gays have appeared in courts and at legislative hearings to oppose civil rights for gay people using the discredited argument that homosexuality is a 'treatable disorder' and not an innate trait deserving of legal protections," Drescher said by instant message to BTL. "This judge's decision is the first, to my knowledge, that in plain language calls conversion therapy 'junk science' and its practitioners as being out of touch with the scientific mainstream."
Drescher has served on the American Psychiatric Association's committees working to rewrite the diagnostic manual for mental health disorders. APA does not consider homosexuality a disorder, nor do any other mainstream medical organizations.
"Historically people acted as if there was 'no harm' in trying to change a person's sexual orientation," Drescher said. "Now we know that is not true. People have been harmed, and it is a milestone to have that recognized by the courts."
Despite the warm welcome of Bariso's ruling on Feb. 10, celebration in terms of impact nationwide might be premature. In a Feb. 5 ruling in the case, Bariso wrote that the trial — expected to begin in early summer 2015 — would implicate only the practices of JONAH.
"Plaintiffs made clear that they do not intend to prove that sexual orientation change efforts ('SOCE') in general cannot be effective," Bariso wrote. "They address solely the practices of JONAH's program specifically, rather than the universe of all possible efforts to change sexual orientation."
In that same ruling, however, Bariso barred testimony from six people claiming to be experts in SOCE.
In striking the testimony, Bariso wrote, "The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but — like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it — instead it is outdated and refuted."
Conversion therapy, or SOCE, has been a controversy in Michigan for some years. BTL reported frequently on the case of Patrick McAlvey and his experiences with Corduroy Ministries. That ministry has since been disaffiliated from Exodus International, and has lost ministerial visitation rights for prisoners at Michigan Department of Corrections' facilities.
Last year, State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, introduced legislation to ban the practice in Michigan. The legislation died without a hearing. Zemke did not respond to an inquiry as to whether he plans to reintroduce the legislation this session.
BTL sought comment from Riverview Church in Lansing, which offers support for those struggling with same-sex attraction — a phrase often used by religious organizations which support SOCE programs. The church did not respond.