Four gay men filed suit on Tuesday against a conversion therapy group in New Jersey which they claim had promised to make the men straight. The suit [complaint, PDF], the first of its kind in the US, alleges that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) [official website], a non-profit organization that "works with those struggling with unwanted same-sex sexual attractions," has defrauded those who have employed their services. The claim was brought under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act [text, PDF] which protects people from "unconscionable commercial practice." Lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) [advocacy website] have joined the men to support their action against conversion therapy and issued a statement [press release] which includes quotes from the American Psychological Association (APA) [official website] that claims that conversion therapy can "create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
The practice of conversion therapy has come under scrutiny lately. Last month California became the first state to enact a law banning conversion therapy [JURIST report]. That bill [SB 1172; Senate backgrounder, PDF] was approved by the California State Assembly at the end of August and by the California Senate [JURIST reports] in May. Supporters of the bill asserted that the underlying reason for the legislation is that homosexuality is not a disease and that therapies to reverse homosexuality were found to have detrimental effects on minors' physical and mental health, leading to suicides and substance abuse. Conversely, groups such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) [advocacy website] voiced their opposition, arguing that most of the facts relied on in the bill are generalizations and loose assertions. According to some experts, California's efforts to pass the ban on sexual orientation therapy have highlighted a need for better gender identity standards [JURIST op-ed].