A New Jersey judge has issued a preliminary ruling that the Jewish ex-gay group JONAH is in violation of the state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) for the way it describes homosexuality and for its claims of success.
Judge Peter F. Bariso, Jr. issued a partial summary judgment against JONAH on two specific claims it had made when marketing its treatment. First, it is a violation of the CFA to market services that describe homosexuality as a “mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent thereof.” The court, he wrote, “now takes judicial notice of the general consensus in the mental health field that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, but is instead a normal variation of human sexuality,” and it would be a misrepresentation to suggest otherwise.
Bariso also found that JONAH was in vioaltion of the CFA when it claimed to have statistics demonstrating success rates for its ex-gay therapy. The plaintiffs, two former clients and three parents of clients, argued that there was “no factual basis for calculating” the statistics JONAH cites in its marketing. The court agreed, because JONAH does not actually track its own clients’ outcomes, instead citing other statistics for ex-gay therapy in general.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents the plaintiffs, lauded the ruling. “For the first time,” SPLC deputy legal director David Dinielli explained, “a court has ruled that it is fraudulent as a matter of law for conversion therapists to tell clients that they have a mental disorder that can be cured. This is the principal lie the conversion therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients. Gay people don’t need to be cured, and we are thrilled that the court has recognized this.”
The ruling follows another decision by the court last week to not allow so-called “experts” on ex-gay therapy to testify on behalf of JONAH. Bariso compared them to experts on flat-earth theory.
The case is still ongoing, but Tuesday’s ruling seems to guarantee at least a partial victory for the plaintiffs. Until the other aspects of the case are resolved at trial, it is unknown what consequences JONAH might face for its fraud.