August 19, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Christie signs law barring ‘ex-gay’ conversion therapy
Chris Christie, New Jersey, Republican Party

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to sign into law legislation that would ban ex-gay conversion therapy for minors. (Photo by Bob Jagendorf via Wikimedia Commons)

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday banning “ex-gay” conversion for minors in New Jersey, which makes the state  the second in the country to have a such a statute in place.

Christie decided to sign the legislation on the last possible day after the legislature passed the bill before it would have become law anyway with or without his signature. News that Christie intended to sign the legislation was reported earlier in the day by the Associated Press.

The bill passed in the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority of 28-9; and in the Assembly with a bipartisan supermajority of 56-14. The lead sponsors were Assembly member Tim Eustace, who’s gay, and State Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

In a signing statement made public later on Monday, Christie said he was conflicted about signing the bill because of possible infringement upon parental choice, but still believe it was the right course of action.

“At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children,” Christie said. “I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly. I have scrutinized this piece of legislation with that concern in mind.”

The Republican governor added the mental health risks of attempting to change a child’s sexual orientation outweigh concerns over the government encroaching on parental choice.

“I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,” Christie said. “The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate. Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law.”

The statement accompanying the signing statement also says Christie believes people are born gay and that homosexuality isn’t a sin — a statement that is contrary to his Catholic faith.

Christie’s expected signature will make New Jersey to second state to ban “ex-gay” conversation therapy for minors. California became the first state after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed similar legislation into law in October. That law is being challenged by social conservatives in federal court in a lawsuit known as Pickup v. Brown. In January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency injunction barring the California law from going into effect.

In a statement immediately after the news on Monday, the social conservative group known as the Liberty Counsel announced that it intends to challenge the New Jersey ban on conversation therapy in court as well.

Mat Staver, founder and president of the Liberty Counsel, said the law provides a “slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights” of counselors and therapists who want to provide counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.

“This bill is so broad that parents would be prohibited from seeking help for their son who developed unwanted same-sex attractions after being molested by the likes of Jerry Sandusky,” Staver added. “Counselors would only be allowed to affirm these unwanted feelings as good and normal. This is absurd and dangerous. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors.”

“Ex-gay” conversion is widely discredited and refuted by major mainstream psychological groups, such as American Psychological Association. In June, the largest ex-gay group, Exodus International, closed its doors after its executive director Alan Chambers issued an apology acknowledging “the pain and hurt others have experienced” through failed attempts at conversion therapy.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of New Jersey’s LGBT group Garden State Equality, commended Christie for signing the legislation, citing the harm “ex-gay” therapy can cause.

“There is no greater achievement than helping to stop the abuse of our youth,” Stevenson said. “Today’s SOCE ban will do just that. It will protect young people from being abused by those they should trust the most, their parents and their “doctors.”

But Stevenson took the opportunity of Christie’s planned signing of the bill to call on him to take further action and sign into law marriage equality legislation that has reached his desk.

“We hope that his realization, that there is nothing wrong with our LGBT youth – and that there is nothing about them that needs to be fixed – will lead to a further evolution,” Stevenson said. “It is our truest hope that the Governor will realize as the majority of the legislature and a super majority of the New Jersey public have realized, that the best way to ensure our LGBT youth are protected from the abuse of being ostracized, is to provide them with equality. We must provide all NJ youth with acceptance, with hope for the future and yes, the promise of the dignity to marry the person that they love.”

UPDATE: This article has been changed to include a statement from the Liberty Counsel and the signing statement that Christie made public later in the day.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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