By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
The three male plaintiffs were in court this morning. Michael Ferguson was a devout Mormon. Benjamin Unger was an orthodox Jew. So was Chaim Levin.
All three are gay today, but fought their homosexual impulses for religious reasons.
Each signed up with Arthur Goldberg, founder of Jersey City-based JONAH, which did stand for Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. Now the H stands for Healing.
Plaintiff’s lawyers say JONAH told the men it could convert them to straight in two to four years and when that didn’t happen, told the men they didn’t work hard enough at it.
“The JONAH program didn’t work for you. It’s your own fault. That’s what you’re hearing from the defendants in this case. They didn’t do it long enough, they didn’t put in enough effort. That’s one of the problems with the JONAH program. There’s no solution that’s based in science and when it doesn’t work they blame you,” said James Bromley.
Goldberg is the author of “Light In the Closet.” An orthodox Jew, he frowns on homosexuality.
His lawyer said his motives were altruistic and that sometimes gay conversion therapy works, or at least shifts a person along the sexual continuum.
“Nobody dragging the plaintiffs into JONAH. It would be wrong to go to any gay person and say ‘you have to change’ it’s wrong but my clients aren’t doing that. They’re just providing help for people who want to change ,” said Charles LiMandri.
The case has gotten national attention.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has joined the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. A fourth plaintiff dropped off the suit but two of the men’s mothers are on it. The plaintiffs brought in outside experts to testify that gay conversion therapy is a hoax.
“Dr. Beck said it was like snake oil; the definition of a false product sold with false promises. Most importantly they told you the JONAH program has no scientific basis,” Bromley said.
Three states have banned gay conversion therapy, including New Jersey after the events in this case. President Obama recently called for a national ban.
JONAH engaged in some controversial methods: nudity, shouting, so called ‘healthy touching,’ Joy In Manhood Weekends.
Plaintiffs are charging consumer fraud and seeking monetary damages.
The defense says the men were never promised a cure.
“It says in the same form, and you have it in evidence, four times that success rates are not guaranteed. You have to do the work, but it’s not guranteed. But who comes into court and sues after being told four times there’s no guarantee, no promises are being made. They’re told it’s controversial, you may want to consider that this is not necessary for you and then comes in and says they were defrauded,” Bromley said.
This three and a half week trial now goes to a seven-person jury. They’ll decide whether Arthur Goldberg and two colleagues were trying to help young men in turmoil or a bunch of amateurs engaging in quackery.