TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New Jersey State Assembly on Monday approved a bill that would ban licensed therapists from trying to turn gay minors into heterosexuals.
The bill passed by a 56-14 Assembly vote with seven abstentions. The state Senate will likely take it up Thursday.
A Senate panel advanced the measure in March after a debate about the practice and how much say the state should have in parents’ decisions on how to raise their children.
“The damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide,” said gay rights activist Ryan Kendall.
Kendall said at the March hearing that he was sent to reparative therapy at the age of 16.
“This must stop,” Kendall said. “We would not tolerate this type of practice for any other group in society. We would not send black children to racial conversion therapy, women to gender conversion therapy or Christians to Atheist conversion therapy.”
Jonathan Bier, an 18-year-old college student, said at the hearing that he was told he’d be kicked out of yeshiva if he didn’t undergo conversion therapy.
“The therapy involved my reading specific portions of the Bible over and over on a weekly basis for the year. I was told about the dangers of homosexuality – how it’s connected to disease, mental illness, a life of unhappiness,” Bier testified. “This hurt me deeply, to this day I’m still affected.”
Mordecai Lubovitch, who is from a strict orthodox Jewish family, said he was forced into conversion therapy at age 6 and says it shamed him.
“I was made to think that for me to be healthy I must play sports, speak in a low voice and keep my wrists from going limp,” Lubovitch testified. “I didn’t want to do any of this. I was happy with the way I was.”
Some social conservatives have argued against the bill, saying it would infringe on the rights of parents to do what they think is best.
Just last week, Exodus International, the largest religious group focused on conversion therapy, announced it was shutting down.
The agency, which had operated since 1976, also apologized to the gay community for years of providing the counseling in an essay by president Alan Chambers titled “I Am Sorry.”
“It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt,” Chambers wrote in the letter. “Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.”
Last year, California became the first state to ban the practice. But a judge halted implementation amid arguments about the law’s constitutionality.
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