New Jersey Supreme Court rejects challenge in conversion therapy case

Activists and supporters block the street outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Oct. 8, 2019, as it hears arguments in three major employment discrimination cases on whether federal civil rights law prohibiting workplace discrimination on the "basis of sex" covers gay and transgender employees. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters) See SCOTUS-EMPLOYMENT-DISCRIMINATION Oct. 8, 2019, and SCOTUS-DISCRIMINATION-ARGUMENTS Oct. 9, 2019.

The New Jersey Supreme Court declined an appeal by Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) and its founders Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk, the conversion therapy providers who were barred from promoting and making referrals for fraudulent conversion therapy services in 2015.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey had previously upheld an order enforcing a permanent injunction against the New Jersey-based conversion therapy promoters and awarding attorneys’ fees for bringing the enforcement action.

JONAH, Goldberg, and Berk asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to review that decision.

​On three occasions—April 2019, February 2016, and May 2015—the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) allowed decisions of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding New Jersey’s anti-conversion therapy law to remain in effect.

SCOTUS also refused to hear challenges to California’s anti-conversion therapy law in May of 2017 and June of 2014, leaving in place decisions of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the law’s constitutionality.

“We applaud the New Jersey Supreme Court for reaffirming Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr.’s order enforcing the permanent injunction and settlement agreement,” said Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for LGBTQ rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are pleased that this decision will continue to help protect vulnerable people and families against those who look to push the harmful and ineffective so-called gay-to-straight conversion therapy sham.”

Michael Ferguson, et al., v. JONAH, et al. was a first-of-its-kind lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and co-counsel partners on behalf of four young men and two of their mothers against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a New Jersey-based organization offering so-called conversion therapy to people who are gay.

The lawsuit charged that JONAH, its founder, and a counselor violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by claiming that they could “convert” people from gay to straight.

The New Jersey legislature, along with 19 other states and the District of Columbia, have since banned the practice on minors by licensed professionals. Yet these cruel, debasing treatments linger in some parts of the country, despite being discredited by every reputable medical and mental health association in the US.

Despite previous rulings where JONAH’s program was found in violation of New Jersey’s consumer fraud law, ordered to shut its doors and stop promoting conversion therapy, Plaintiffs remain entitled to $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees from the settlement agreement in the original case.

“We are appreciative to Bruce Greenberg of Lite DePalma Greenberg & Afanador, LLC of Newark, New Jersey, who served as co-counsel and argued the appeal to the Appellate Division, and to Lina Bensman, Luke Barefoot and Thomas Kessler ”

“The brave plaintiffs who brought the original lawsuit against JONAH have been vindicated at every step. We hope that other vulnerable gay people will feel affirmed by the outcomes we have achieved in this case,” said Lina Bensman, partner at of global law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP who serves as co-counsel in this landmark case. “Gay and bisexual people are not mentally ill, and do not need a ‘cure.’ Anyone hoping to defraud them by charging them money for dangerous and unscientific conversion therapy services should think twice.”

So-called “conversion therapy,” sometimes known as “reparative therapy,” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy.

Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.

To date, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all have laws or regulations protecting youth from this harmful practice.

Eight of those state laws or regulations were enacted under Republican governors.

A growing number of municipalities have also enacted similar protections, including at least 70 cities and counties in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.

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