Gay 'Conversion' Therapy on Trial as Ex-Patients Sue Nonprofit Firm; Consumer Fraud Law Used

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Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A New Jersey consumer fraud case has opened a new front in the battle over conversion therapies that offer counseling to gay patients looking to become straight.

The fraud case involving services offered to four young men who once struggled with their same-sex attractions will be heard Friday. Four gay men and two of the men's mothers are suing a Jewish nonprofit corporation, saying the gay-to-straight conversion sessions were fraudulent and harmful.

Conversion counselors and their supporters say they are offering a legitimate service to willing customers, but the practice has come under sustained attack from gay-rights groups and others who question the scientific rigor and the results of the therapy methods.

The fraud plaintiffs want a jury to revoke the business license of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), declare its services deceptive and false, and order it to repay all the money the plaintiffs spent on therapy sessions, plus other costs.

In the hearing before Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr., in Hudson County, the plaintiffs are offering a novel legal argument that cites New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act, and say the case should be allowed to go before a jury, said Sam Wolfe, senior attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who called the conversion therapy program bogus.

Counsel for the defendants said the consumer fraud law is being misused to advance a political agenda to outlaw change therapies, and promises to show evidence that some people can and do reorient themselves to heterosexuality.

JONAH was created to help people who want to live in concert with the values of the Jewish Torah, said Charles LiMandri, chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund.

The defendants in the case include JONAH, co-founder Arthur Goldberg and JONAH-affiliated counselor Alan Downing.

The lawsuit, first filed in November, is being heard as New Jersey Gov. …