Supreme Court Order Marks the End of Legal Challenges to New Jersey’s Ban on Conversion Therapy for Minors

By Chris Stoll, Esq.NCLR Senior Staff Attorney

On February 29, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Doe v. Christie, a case challenging New Jersey’s law prohibiting state-licensed therapists from engaging in the discredited practice of conversion therapy with patients under 18 years of age. The Supreme Court’s order allows the law to remain in full effect and marks the final chapter in a nearly three-year-long series of challenges filed by Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT legal group.

NCLR was proud to join Garden State Equality in asking the New Jersey legislature and governor to pass this life-saving legislation, and then to represent GSE in successfully urging the federal courts to reject this legal challenge and uphold the law.

At the time Governor Chris Christie signed the bill into law on August 19, 2013, New Jersey was the second state after California to pass legislation protecting against harmful efforts by licensed therapists to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – practices that put youth at risk of serious lifelong harm, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Since that time, similar laws have been passed in Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Illinois, and NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign is working with leaders in dozens of other states to bring the same protections to young people everywhere.

Wherever these laws have been challenged, NCLR has also stood ready to defend them in the courts. And we’ve been successful. Federal appeals courts have uniformly rejected legal challenges to these laws brought by anti-LGBT legal groups representing therapists, minors, and parents who want to preserve these outdated and dangerous “treatments.”

These federal court decisions rest on the common-sense principle that states have the power to regulate medical care to protect patients from treatments that are ineffective and risky. Just as a doctor or patient has no right to administer or receive untested or unsafe prescription medications, therapists have no right to engage in so-called treatments that do not benefit minors and expose them to serious risks of harm. Laws protecting minors from conversion therapy are based on a strong scientific consensus among medical and mental health professionals, and states have a right—and a duty—to make sure licensed therapists are not engaging in these harmful and discredited practices.

Federal Appeals Court Upholds New Jersey Law Prohibiting Conversion Therapy for Minors

COURT REJECTS ANTI-LGBT GROUPS’ CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES TO LAW

TRENTON, N.J. (September 11, 2014)—Today, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit unanimously upheld a 2013 New Jersey law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression or identity of patients under 18 years old. The Court held that the New Jersey law does not violate the First Amendment and that the State of New Jersey was entitled to prohibit these discredited practices in order to protect minors from harm. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a similar California law last year.

The New Jersey law prohibits licensed therapists from subjecting minor patients to “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), which the law defines as the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith held that “over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE, expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm,” and that “[m]any such organizations have also concluded that there is no credible evidence that SOCE counseling is effective.”

The constitutionality of the New Jersey law was challenged in August 2013 in a lawsuit filed by anti-LGBT groups primarily representing therapists who engage in the prohibited practices. The case was assigned to federal district judge Freda Wolfson, who held that the law was a valid exercise of the state’s authority to regulate medical professionals to protect public health and safety. That ruling was appealed and heard by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit in July 2014.

While applying a higher standard of review, the Third Circuit upheld Judge Wolfson’s judgment that the law is constitutional, stating: “Legislatures are entitled to rely on the empirical judgments of independent professional organizations that possess specialized knowledge and experience concerning the professional practice under review, particularly when this community has spoken with such urgency and solidarity on the subject.”

In the fall of 2013, Garden State Equality filed a successful motion to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the law alongside New Jersey Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, who represents the State of New Jersey defendants. Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Gluck Walrath LLP. David Flugman of Kirkland & Ellis argued the case on behalf of Garden State Equality.

“The court’s decision today is a major victory for the thousands of young people who will now be protected from these dangerous and horrific practices,” said Andrea Bowen, Garden State Equality’s executive director. “No one should subject minors to conversion therapy—least of all state-licensed clinicians responsible for the care and well-being of their patients.”

Shannon Minter, NCLR’s Legal Director, said “This decision means that New Jersey youth will continue being protected from cruel and damaging practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health professional organizations. The court of appeals’ ruling makes clear that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. We thank Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, Deputy Attorney General Susan Marie Scott, and the entire legal team at the Office of the Attorney General for their work defending this essential law.”

The New Jersey law, known as Assembly Bill A3371, had seventeen primary and co-sponsors in the Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on August 19, 2013. In the Governor’s Statement Upon Signing, Governor Christie noted the “critical health risks” posed by conversion therapy, including “depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”

Learn more about the case.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Federal Court Rejects Second Lawsuit Challenging New Jersey Law Prohibiting Conversion Therapy for Minors

TRENTON, N.J. (July 31, 2014)—Today, Judge Freda Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a lawsuit that challenged 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 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.

Today’s decision follows Judge Wolfson’s November 2013 decision dismissing a similar challenge to the law filed on behalf of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices. That earlier decision is now on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which heard argument in the case on July 9.

In today’s ruling, Judge Wolfson concluded that “the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective.” Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and GluckWalrath LLP.

In 2013, 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. On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to further review that case. Similar legislation prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change minors’ sexual orientation or gender identity also has been proposed in several other states.

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:

“We are very pleased that Judge Wolfson has again upheld this life-saving law. This law protects New Jersey’s youth from dangerous and discredited practices that have been rejected by the country’s leading medical and mental health organizations. Although well-meaning parents often think they are helping their children by sending them to therapists who engage in these practices, the truth is that attempting to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not improve their health, but instead puts them at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. New Jersey has wisely decided to end these harmful practices, just as it prohibits other medical treatments that are dangerous and ineffective.”

TRENTON, N.J. (July 31, 2014)—Today, Judge Freda Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a lawsuit that challenged 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 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.

Today’s decision follows Judge Wolfson’s November 2013 decision dismissing a similar challenge to the law filed on behalf of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices. That earlier decision is now on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which heard argument in the case on July 9.

In today’s ruling, Judge Wolfson concluded that “the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective.” Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and GluckWalrath LLP.

In 2013, 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. On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to further review that case. Similar legislation prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change minors’ sexual orientation or gender identity also has been proposed in several other states.

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:

“We are very pleased that Judge Wolfson has again upheld this life-saving law. This law protects New Jersey’s youth from dangerous and discredited practices that have been rejected by the country’s leading medical and mental health organizations. Although well-meaning parents often think they are helping their children by sending them to therapists who engage in these practices, the truth is that attempting to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not improve their health, but instead puts them at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. New Jersey has wisely decided to end these harmful practices, just as it prohibits other medical treatments that are dangerous and ineffective.”


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.