PHILADELPHIA (CBS SF) — A judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s ban on gay conversion therapy was upheld Monday by a federal appeals court.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson was right to reject the claims of a couple who said their constitutional rights were being violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their teenage son.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in 2013 banning the therapy in New Jersey, saying that the potential health risks trumped concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice. New Jersey was the second state to pass such a law; California passed a similar law in 2012, and the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a challenge to that law last year.
The couple claimed in their suit that the state’s law violated their rights to free speech and freedom of religion, as well as their 14th Amendment right to equal protection. An attorney representing the couple didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
It is the second time the appeals court has upheld the law after ruling in favor of the state in a lawsuit brought by a group of plaintiffs that included two licensed therapists who practice what are called “sexual orientation change efforts,” referred to in court filings as SOCE.
The court pointed to that previous ruling Monday, saying the state has an “‘unquestionably substantial’ interest in protecting citizens from harmful professional practices, and that this interest is even stronger where the citizens protected are minors.”
Wolfson ruled against the counselors as well, writing in her November 2013 ruling that the law doesn’t impinge on free speech because it covers conduct — the therapy, specifically — and not speech. The statute doesn’t restrict freedom of religion, she added, because it is neutral with respect to religion even if it “disproportionately affects those motivated by religious belief.”
She cited numerous court rulings that have held that states have the right to regulate what medical or mental health treatments parents choose for their children.
“Surely, 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,” Wolfson wrote. “To find otherwise would create unimaginable and unintentional consequences.”
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