Offering gay conversion therapy is an act of consumer fraud, a jury unanimously decided in a New Jersey case today.
Four men sued a nonprofit group called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), which claimed to be able to make gay men straight. This is the first time a conversion therapy group has been convicted on consumer protection grounds.
The plaintiffs were awarded a total of $72,000–and the judge has yet to decide on the question of whether the JONAH's license should be revoked. The group's defense was that they were helping people struggling with their sexuality. From the Associated Press:
The trial began this month and featured testimony from the men about the group's methods, which they said included using a tennis racket to beat a pillow that was meant to represent one man's mother and engaging in role play that included a locker room scene where gay slurs were used.
The original four plaintiffs, three from Orthodox Jewish families and the fourth a Mormon, alleged the nonprofit exploited them with false promises as they struggled with their same-sex attractions in strict religious environments where they were expected to marry women and have children.
Earlier this year, a New Jersey superior court judge ruled that the group was also violating the state's Consumer Fraud Act by fraudulently claiming their conversion therapy had cured the "ailment" of homosexuality in many cases. The judge ruled that the expert witnesses they wanted to call to support them were not up to court standards.
The American Medical Association has said gay conversion therapy is not a legitimate medical practice, and in New Jersey, courts don't allow expert witnesses who don't conform to widely recognized industry standards.
“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, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center told Towleroad after that decision. “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.”
Today's ruling could set an important benchmark for how courts deal with cases against conversion therapy groups across the country.