Judge Calls Homosexual Conversion Therapy A Fraud

A New Jersey judge issued a pre-trial ruling stating that when an organization asserts homosexuality is a curable mental disorder, the organization is acting illegally and engaging in fraud under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, according to a CBS News report. In addition to handing down its opinion that homosexuality is not a mental disorder in need of a cure, the Hudson County Superior Court held that homosexual conversion marketing claims including “success statistics”—indicating the occurrence of “successful” conversions to heterosexuality—were fraudulent under the New Jersey law because “there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics.” The ruling follows another ruling by the same judge in the run up to a trial on the merits of the case. According to reporting from the Washington Post, in the earlier ruling, the judge barred the testimony of homosexuality treatment proponents who planned to testify to “scientifically refuted testimony that homosexuality is an illness.”

JONAH

The case involves an organization known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), which made the fraudulent claims linking homosexuality with mental disorder. According to JONAH’s attorney, the organization does not make money from the services it provides but instead makes referrals to independent therapists who do charge for their services. JONAH, which also calls itself the “Institute for Gender Affirmation” asserts that it never made specific marketing claims regarding success and only made reference to the term “disorder” in the context of the organizations interpretation of Jewish Law, which was not intended to describe homosexuality in terms of a psychological disorder. In fact, according to a story in the Salt Lake Tribune, the therapists to whom JONAH refers patients are not therapists in a psychological or psychiatric sense—they are often members of the clergy. JONAH asserts that the services it provides are voluntary and beneficial for patients.

Coercion

The plaintiffs in the case, four men who attended the therapy services they were referred to by JONAH, considered the process less voluntary than JONAH describes it. According to the Washington Post, the four men allege that those who attended therapy services were coerced into demeaning behavior, “including having to strip naked and beat images of their mothers.” According to CBS, the men who brought the lawsuit did not complete the therapy program.

Trial

The case is set to go to trial in the summer, where several undecided issues will be vetted by a jury. Among the undecided controversies are additional alleged violations of the consumer fraud act, the allegation that JONAH has an unconscionable business practice, and JONAH’s position that they merely provide consumers the freedom of choice. Although the pre-trial ruling does not have a lasting or binding effect on New Jersey or elsewhere, according to a New York Times story, opponents of homosexual conversion therapy are celebrating it as a success. The ruling does represent the first time a judge has asserted as a matter of law that homosexual conversion is a fraud.  The plaintiffs’ lawsuit seeks financial damages, to recover the thousands spent on the allegedly fraudulent therapy, and the closing of JONAH.  According to the New York Times, New Jersey, California, and Washington D.C. are the only three jurisdictions that currently bar licensed mental health professionals from performing conversion therapy on young people. Depending on the outcome of the case, the JONAH lawsuit could be one significant step further in delineating the line between fraud and therapy.