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Controversial gay conversion therapy groups who claim homosexuality is a disease in their marketing are violating New Jersey’s consumer protection laws, a state judge ruled Tuesday.
It was the first decision of its kind nationwide, a legal rights group said.
Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio Jr. made the ruling as part of a consumer fraud lawsuit filed against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a New Jersey-based conversion therapy provider. The Southern Poverty Law Center brought the lawsuit on behalf of ex-JONAH clients and two parents of former clients, alleging the group used deceptive practices to lure clients to pay for gay-to-straight therapy that can cost more than $10,000 a year.
“It is a misrepresentation in violation of the CFA (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,” Barsio wrote.
Barsio also said JONAH was violating the CFA by “advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to include specific ‘success’ statistics when there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics.”
“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,” David Dinielli, a SPLC deputy legal director, said in a statement. “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.”
Messages left for JONAH seeking comment weren’t immediately returned. Trial is set in the case for June 1.
Mainstream psychiatric and medical groups had said gay conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, was unfounded in science and can be harmful. The American Psychiatric Association said it could cause depression and anxiety in patients.
Christian ministry Exodus International, which led the so-called ex-gay movement, announced in 2013 that it would shut down, and its leader apologized extensively for causing "pain and hurt."