TRENTON – Following three hours of testimony, the Senate Health Committee on Monday released a bill prohibiting counseling by licensed professionals to change the sexual orientation of children who are under age 18.
Bill S2278 states that individuals who are licensed to provide professional counseling, psychiatrists, psychologists, certified social workers, marriage and family therapists, among others – are prohibited from engaging in “sexual orientation change efforts.”
These efforts are commonly known as conversion therapies.
The bill defines “sexual orientation change efforts,” or conversion therapies, as the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual persuasion, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.
Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) of Elizabeth, said opposition to conversion therapies has been expressed by such major groups as the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the Academy of Pediatrics, among many others.
Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-38) described conversion therapy as “a form of child abuse.”
Garden State Equality‘s Troy Stevenson also described the therapy as “abuse.”
Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-12) of Old Bridge said the bill does nothing to prevent therapy services being provided by “unlicensed professionals.”
“This law would not bar any of those individuals,” he said. “The demand is not going to go away. It’s not going to stop.”
Lesniak pointed out that regardless of who’s providing the conversion therapy, “it’s still harmful to the child.”
One person testified abusive eletroshock therapy was given during a counseling session.
Sen. Dawn Addiego, (R-8), of Evesham, asked if the bill could be amended to stress that nobody, not just licensed professionals, could provide conversion therapy to those under age 18.
However, Lesniak said such a broadening may not survive a higher court ruling.
There was some opposition to the bill.
Carol Gallentine, who described herself as a parent, asked the committee “why you’re trying to come into our homes.”
“Under 18, it’s the parent’s right. It’s a civil right,” she said. “I see you people bullying the parent. I just want to encourage you to stay out of family lives.”
John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families, opposed the bill, saying it’s the parent’s responsibility to see best how to raise their children.
“You’re interfering with parental rights,” he said.
He recommended the bill be held in order to find out exactly what kinds of therapies would be allowed and what wouldn’t be.
Addiego, who said she “struggled” with the bill, said “I like to believe all parents are caring, loving parents,” she said. “They’re not.”
Dr. Tara King of King of Hearts Counseling Center said the bill is “not client-centered.” A former lesbian, King said she sought couseling in her mid-20s and was “enlightend” by the experience.
“This current bill would deny me the opportunity (to seek help),” she said. “I think it’s important they have the opportunity…My choices have a right to be protected.”
Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), Newark, who voted to release the bill, recommended the bill be tightened so individuals who willingly choose to seek therapy regarding issues related to their sexual orientation are not entirely excluded from doing so.
Supporters of the bill said the bill is about banning “advocacy therapy” and not therapy as a whole.