TRENTON – The state Senate approved a bill to prevent children from undergoing so-called “conversion therapy,” the use of therapeutic practices intended to change sexual orientation, by a 28 to 9 vote on Thursday. The proposed legislation now awaits action by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
“Conversion therapy not only has no basis in science, it has proven to be harmful to young people,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), the bill’s prime sponsor. “Most of the major psychiatric, psychological and counseling organizations have warned of dangers of this practice. I believe it is a type of child abuse that should be prevented.”
The bill would prohibit professional counselors, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers, from engaging in practices designed to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18. The legislation applies only to licensed professionals and to children under 18 years of age, Lesniak noted, and violations of this prohibition would be enforced by the respective professional licensing boards under their rules and regulations.
A study by the American Psychological Association found that the so-called therapy of conversion practices can cause a wide range of harmful effects for young people, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, hostility and even suicidal tendencies. The American Psychiatric Association has stated that “the potential risks of reparative therapy are great” in its warning against its use for children.
Recently, a group of young people subjected to conversion therapy filed a lawsuit against the counselors who conducted the so-called therapy. In the lawsuit, they described the treatment to include harsh ridicule, visits to bath houses, group nudity sessions and role playing where they are told to violently beat an effigy of their mothers.
“We aren’t telling parents how to raise their children with this bill, we are acting to protect young people from abuse,” said Lesniak. “If adults want to make the decision to undergo this process, they can. But minors don’t have the same free choice.”
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