Not All Sexual-Orientation Change Therapy Is Consumer Fraud

by Maggie Gallagher

An update in the case SPLC vs. JONAH, in which the Southern Poverty Law Center has sued a New Jersey group aiming to offer sexual-orientation therapy: Professor Nicholas Cummings, rather a giant in the field of psychology who gave a deposition in this case, published an op-ed Wednesday in USA Today

The Southern Poverty Law Centerhas done amazing service for our nation in fighting prejudice. But it has gone astray in its recent New Jersey lawsuit charging JONAH, formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, a group that offers to help gay people change their orientation, with committing consumer fraud. The sweeping allegation that such treatment must be a fraud because homosexual orientation can’t be changed is damaging.
Some have accused Cummings of supporting damaging forms of what they call “reparation therapy.” But the SPLC lawsuit originally claimed any form of sexual-orientation change therapy was necessarily fraud because it never helps people. Cummings’s point is that competent therapy can be helpful to highly motivated patients who choose to deal with same-sex attraction in other ways than, well, being gay. He is firmly pro–gay rights — but for all gay people, even those who choose to live their sex lives in accordance with their faith:

Gays and lesbians have the right to be affirmed in their homosexuality. That’s why, as a member of the APA Council of Representatives in 1975, I sponsored the resolution by which the APA stated that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and, in 1976, theresolution, which passed the council unanimously, that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in the workplace.

But contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as “unethical” violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients’ goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn’t prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions.

Whatever the situation at an individual clinic, accusing professionals from across the country who provide treatment for fully informed persons seeking to change their sexual orientation of perpetrating a fraud serves only to stigmatize the professional and shame the patient.