New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie quietly signed into law on Monday a bill that prohibits licensed professionals from counseling gay and lesbian minors into feeling attracted to members of the opposite sex.
First introduced in October 2012, Assembly Bill 3371 banning so-called "conversion therapy" passed both houses of the New Jersey Legislature with bipartisan support in June. The Garden State is now the second in the country to prohibit conversion therapy by law. California adopted a similar ban in 2012.
In an accompanying signing note obtained early by the Associated Press, Christie appeared to contradict his Catholic faith in saying that he believed people were born gay and that homosexuality was not a sin. Catholic teaching argues that homosexuality is acquired, not inborn, and that acting on same-sex desire is sinful.
Such declarations were not included the governor’s statement upon signing, released Monday. Rather than citing his personal beliefs on homosexuality, Christie deferred to medical experts, who argue that conversion therapy rarely works as intended and can cause serious harm to the recipients.
“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,” said Christie. “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”
Christie also expressed reservations that the law would infringe on parental freedom, something he cited last week in referencing a bill that would ease access to medicinal marijuana for sick children.
“At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children,” said Christie in his statement upon signing the conversion therapy ban. “I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly.”
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Paul Guequierre applauded Christie’s actions on Monday, but noted that the fight for marriage equality in the state was still unresolved.
“It’s great for LGBT youth in New Jersey who need to be given the message that they are loved just the way they are and that there’s nothing wrong with them,” Guequierre told MSNBC. “Coming from Gov. Christie, this is encouraging news, and we hope he will come to support marriage equality in New Jersey and everywhere else.”
The conversion therapy ban comes on the heels of a renewed push to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the Garden State, which is currently one of four to allow civil unions. Six gay couples were back in federal court Thursday, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act does not apply to those in civil unions, meaning that gay couples in New Jersey will not be entitled to federal-level spousal benefits. In order for same-sex couples to receive the same benefits given to heterosexual spouses (protections that were mandated in a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling,) New Jersey would have to legalize same-sex marriage, not just civil unions, argue the plaintiffs.
Christie’s administration is defending the state’s Civil Union Act, arguing that it’s the federal government at fault, not New Jersey, if couples in civil unions are denied certain federal benefits. The judge said she would not issue a ruling before September.
The Republican governor is currently enjoying a moment of enormous popularity, having earned the top slot on Quinnipiac University's survey of "hottest" politicians, as well as encouraging signs for a potential 2016 White House run. But as the New York Times notes, while Christie does possess widespread appeal, there also exists legitimate skepticism toward him from within the Republican base, which has warmed to gay rights at a considerably slower pace.
Guequierre said Christie’s support of the ban on conversion therapy marks an “encouraging” turn from the governor, but that "it's tough to say if this bill has anything to do with his views on marriage equality."