New Jersey became the second state in the nation to prohibit "ex-gay" conversion therapy for gay youth Monday after Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation into law.
The Associated Press first reported Monday morning that Christie would sign the bill, which passed the state Senate with a 28-9 vote and the state Assembly with a 56-14 vote earlier this summer. In a signing statement, Christie said he approached the legislation with hesitation, but sided with protecting children from practices the American Psychological Association has found pose critical health risks, including suicide.
"At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children. I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly," Christie said.
"However, 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," he added. "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."
Effective immediately, those licensed to provide professional counseling are prohibited from engaging in "sexual orientation change efforts" with those under the age of 18.
The law that now bears Christie's signature declares, "Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming."
Christie, who is considered a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, was praised by LGBT advocates, who quickly focused in on the governor's continued opposition to same-sex marriage.
"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," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, in a statement. "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."
Christie vetoed marriage-equality legislation approved by the state Legislature in February 2012 under the justification that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be decided by voters at the ballot box.
In a June 2011 interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Christie said he believes people are born gay and not sinners.
"I've always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual. And so I think if someone is born that way it's very difficult to say then that's a sin. But I understand that my church says that, but for me personally I don't look at someone who is homosexual as a sinner," Christie said. A clip of Christie's 2011 comments on homosexuality was uploaded to his official YouTube page just three days ago on Aug. 16.
New Jersey follows California in outlawing "reparative" therapy, which was prohibited by legislation in that state signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in September 2012. Much as they did in California, supporters of conversion therapy immediately promised to file suit to block the New Jersey law.
"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. 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," said Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, which is currently challenging the California law.
Despite those threats, advocates expressed optimism that the laws protecting gay youth in California and New Jersey will soon spread nationwide.
"LGBT youth in New Jersey will now be protected from a practice that has not only been debunked as junk science, but has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being," said Human Rights Campaign Foundation Vice President Jeff Krehely in a statement. "We will continue our fight against this kind of child abuse, which has been deemed harmful to children by all major mental health, medical, and child welfare organizations."
[Photo: Chris Christie. Credit: New Jersey Governor's office.]