State Legislation & Policy
Federal Court Upholds New Jersey Law Prohibiting Licensed Therapists from Engaging in Dangerous Practices that Attempt to Change Minors’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
(Trenton, NJ, November 8, 2013)—Today, Judge Freda Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey upheld a 2013 New Jersey law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of a patient under 18 years old. The ruling dismissed a legal challenge to the law filed on behalf of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices. The judge also granted a request by Garden State Equality, the state’s largest civil rights organization and the leading organization supporting passage of the law, to intervene in the case in defense of the law.
In today’s ruling, Judge Wolfson concluded that the New Jersey law “restricts neither speech nor religious expression.” She noted that the therapists’ challenge to the law “runs counter to the longstanding principle that a state generally may enact laws rationally regulating professionals, including those providing medicine and mental health services.”
In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision upholding a similar law in California protecting youth from these harmful practices by licensed therapists. Judge Wolfson’s decision applied similar reasoning in ruling that the New Jersey statute does not violate therapists’ constitutional rights.
On August 19, 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a law—the nation’s second—prohibiting state-licensed therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a minor. Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has warned that these practices do not work and put young people at risk of serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
An anti-LGBT legal group immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new law on behalf of two New Jersey therapists and two organizations that support the use of these harmful practices. In September 2013, Garden State Equality filed a motion to intervene in the case to defend the law alongside the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, which represents the State of New Jersey defendants. Garden State Equality also filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to uphold the law. Today’s ruling by Judge Wolfson granted both of Garden State Equality’s requests.
“The court’s decision today is a huge victory for New Jersey youth. This law will save lives by protecting young people them from these horrible and damaging practices,” said Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “We thank Assemblyman Tim Eustace for authoring this important legislation.”
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, who represents Garden State Equality in the case, added: “This law protects youth from practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health professional organizations. The court issued a clear and thorough decision explaining that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that do not improve patients’ health and put young people at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide.”
Andrew Bayer, Chairman of GluckWalrath LLP’s litigation department, stated: “The team at GluckWalrath is honored to have worked on such an important case of national significance which protects the youth of the State of New Jersey.”
Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and GluckWalrath LLP.