The New Jersey State Assembly and Senate passed a bill last week that would ban reparative therapy for minors, despite opposition from orthodox Jewish communities that actively fought the legislation. Now it’s up to Gov. Chris Christie to sign it.
Avi Shafran, a member of the conservative Jewish group Agudath Israel of America, said opposition to the bill comes from deeply held conviction: “An attraction is not a sin. The Torah, however, forbids acting on a multitude of potential attractions, and same-sex sexual feelings are among them. A person who has such feelings has a right and responsibility to try to change them and, if that does not seem possible, to nevertheless not act upon them.”
A controversial form of counseling, reparative therapy encourages minors to work through same-sex attraction and live consistent with their birth gender. But under the bill, therapists would have to refuse treatment to a child even if that child wants it. Any therapist that responds to children or teenagers’ request for reparative therapy would lose his license. The bill bans the treatment for minors out of fears that parents may force children to believe that homosexuality is a mental illness.
The bill also openly supports homosexuality. It says, “The Legislature finds and declares that: Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming.” It also cites a 2009 study from the American Psychiatric Association saying that reparative therapy produced harmful effects such as depression.
The bill tries to define what is acceptable, permitting therapy that “provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a person … identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions.” But how much leeway that gives counselors remains unclear.
Shafran believes the bill is misguided: “Having met people who have undergone such therapy, I am convinced that it can be effective, at least with certain people.”
Outside New Jersey, more than 200 national leaders, including rabbis and mental health professionals, have added their names to the Torah approach to homosexuality. The document states that homosexuality is forbidden in the Torah and individuals can overcome it. It also prescribes reparative therapy as the solution to same-sex attraction:
We emphatically reject the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire. … The only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah. … The therapy consists of reinforcing the natural gender-identity of the individual by helping him or her understand and repair the emotional wounds that led to its disorientation and weakening.
Christie has given mixed signals on whether he will sign the bill into law.