A bill that would bar mental health professionals from attempting to change the sexuality or gender identity of adults – more commonly known as conversion therapy – passed the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee on party lines today.
“The dangers of attempts to change sexual orientation, such as conversion therapy or reparative therapy, are well documented,” State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “We must completely prohibit this ineffective and harmful practice. All individuals should embrace their identity without the danger of damaging treatment by those who are supposed to be professionals.”
Since 2012, state law has included a prohibition on conversion therapy for those under the age of 18. Legislation to expand the ban to adult patients has been proposed in every legislative session since the 2018-19 session, but today’s committee meeting marked the first time the bill had ever come up for a vote.
Jeff Feldman, representing the National Association of Social Workers New Jersey, testified at the committee meeting that his organization supports banning adult conversion therapy.
“Sexual orientation efforts have been discredited or highly criticized by all major medical, psychiatric, psychological, and professional mental health organizations,” Feldman said. “NASW New Jersey supports professional interventions at the individual level that help the person seeking therapy to achieve self-actualization.”
But several other attendees of the hearing, two of whom described themselves as “ex-gay” individuals who had left the LGBTQ community, claimed that the bill takes away adult patients’ ability to seek the therapy they might want.
“Adults need to be given the independence and autonomy to make their own decisions,” testified Center for Garden State Families president Gregory Quinlan. “Client-patient autonomy is the cornerstone of ethical guidelines and behavior in all mental health professions; this bill denies that.”
Possibly swayed by the arguments of the “ex-gay” testifiers, State Sens. Ed Durr (R-Swedesboro) and Robert Singer (R-Lakewood) both voted no on the bill; all five Democrats on the committee voted yes.