In New Jersey on Tuesday, four gay men who tried the therapy filed a civil suit against a prominent counseling group, charging it with deceptive practices under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
The former clients said they were emotionally scarred by false promises of inner transformation and humiliating techniques that included stripping naked in front of the counselor and beating effigies of their mothers. They paid thousands of dollars in fees over time, they said, only to be told that the lack of change in their sexual feelings was their own fault.
In California, so-called ex-gay therapists have gone to court to argue for the other side. They are seeking to block a new state law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September and celebrated as a milestone by advocates for gay rights, that bans conversion therapy for minors.
In Sacramento on Friday, a federal judge will hear the first of two legal challenges brought by conservative law groups claiming that the ban is an unconstitutional infringement on speech, religion and privacy.
Since the 1970s, when mainstream mental health associations stopped branding homosexuality as a disorder, a small network of renegade therapists, conservative religious leaders and self-identified “life coaches” has continued to argue that it is not inborn, but an aberration rooted in childhood trauma. Homosexuality is caused, these therapists say, by a stifling of normal masculine development, often by distant fathers and overbearing mothers or by early sexual abuse.
An industry of “reparative therapy” clinics and men’s weekend retreats has drawn thousands of teenagers and adults who hope to rid themselves of homosexual urges, whether because of religious beliefs or family pressures.
But leading scientific and medical groups say that the theories of sexuality are unfounded and that there is no evidence that core sexual urges can be changed. They also warn that the therapy can, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, cause “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior” and “reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Those conclusions will be at the center of the coming legal fights in the state and federal courts.
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