In a first for the nation, California lawmakers banned the controversial gay conversion therapy earlier this year. However, the battle over gay conversion therapy is far from over, as opponents and proponents are facing their opening days in court.

Proponents of gay conversion therapy say that it can help men and women overcome unwanted same-sex attractions. The practice cropped up in the 1970s, after homosexuality was no longer classified as a psychiatric disorder in diagnostic manuals.

Therapists say that homosexuality is born out of childhood trauma. However, scientific and medical groups say that there is no proof that sexual attraction can be changed; the American Psychiatric Association says that the therapy can cause "depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior" and can "reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient".

Sacramento will hear two challenges to the gay conversion therapy ban, saying that the law infringes in religious and privacy freedoms. The ban only applies to licensed therapists, not religious counselors.

"The law is clear that the government can prohibit health care practices that are harmful or ineffective," Erwin Chemerinsky, a professor at the University of California, Irvine said to the New York Times. He believes that, when the court hears the state's scientific argument, the state will win.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, four young men are bringing a civil suit, via the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or Jonah, co-founder Arthur Goldberg, and a life coach affiliated with the program, Alan Downing. Mr. Goldberg founded the organization in 1999 after he completed a prison sentence for financial fraud. The four men and two of their mothers say that they spent thousands of dollars on the conversion therapy and further therapy needed to undo the damage of the conversion therapy. The suit wants monetary compensation and for Jonah to be shut down.

Though the website says that the organization is "dedicated to educating the worldwide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors that lead to same-sex attractions," they also say that they treat non-Jewish people. While many Orthodox Jews believe that homosexuality is an affront to divine law, Jonah holds no standing in the Jewish community.

Neither of the men named in the suit are licensed therapists, so they are not subject to rebuke from any professional organizations.

One of the plaintiffs, Michael Ferguson, attended a retreat called Journey into Manhood in 2008 and attended weekly sessions with Mr. Downing at his office in Jersey City, at $100 a session. Eventually, Ferguson, now a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at the University of Utah, was forced to see a different therapist for his depression.

"It becomes fraudulent, even cruel," he said. "To say that if you really want to change you could - that's an awful thing to tell somebody...I was encouraged to develop anger and rage toward my parents. The notion that your parents caused this is a horrible lie. They ask you to blame your mother for being loving and wonderful."

Another man, Chaim Levin, now 23, says that he attended $650 weekend retreats, private sessions, and group sessions for a year and a half. He stopped attending when Mr. Downing forced him to remove all of his clothes and touch himself.

Mr. Goldberg has defended the approach by saying that it can help patients with body image issues. However, Levin called the experience degrading.

Levin had been sexually abused by a relative between the ages of six and 10, which Downing said caused his homosexuality. "Once I accepted that I was gay, I was able to focus on the more serious problem of a history of sex abuse," Levin said.

Published by Medicaldaily.com