New Jersey legislators on Thursday approved a bill to ban “change” therapy for children and youths who are struggling with same-sex attractions, only the second such measure in the country.
The bill, approved by the state Legislature in Trenton a day after the Supreme Court handed down two landmark rulings favoring gay marriage, now goes to Gov. Chris Christie.
The Republican governor, in a statement to CNN, said he does not believe in the effectiveness of gay conversion therapies, but he stopped short of saying he would sign the bill. The strong support in the Democrat-dominated Legislature, however, suggests that there would be enough votes to override a veto.
The bill prohibits professional counselors from offering minors therapy that would seek to “change a person’s sexual orientation” — including behaviors, gender identity and gender expressions — or “to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”
“Leading psychological professionals agree that this practice has no place in legitimate mental-health therapies,” said state Assemblyman Tim Eustace, a Democrat and openly gay sponsor of the bill.
The bill specifically exempts therapy for people who are interested in changing “from one gender to another.” It also does not apply to people without professional licenses, such as some religious counselors.
The bill passed the state Senate on Thursday, 28-9, three days after the state Assembly passed the measure on a 56-14 vote, with seven abstentions.
Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, applauded the vote, saying it would save young lives from abusive, discredited practices.
The legislation “is a natural progression for all who want to make sure that kids don’t become lifelong victims of the whims of misguided adults,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, an organization that opposes ex-gay ministries. New Jersey, Mr. Besen added, “has taken a monumental step to protect its children this week.”
But others chided lawmakers for ignoring the ex-gay population.
Christopher Doyle, co-founder of Voices of the Voiceless and director of the International Healing Foundation, said the bill passed, in part, on fabricated testimony. Ex-gays are an “invisible minority” who are fighting to be heard, he said, noting that he and others are organizing an Ex-Gay Pride Awareness Day in the District in July to draw attention to their issues.
“For any state to deny young people self-determination in such matters is a grave injustice and a capitulation to intolerant homosexualist forces,” said Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and board member of Restored Hope Network, a Christian organization that supports sexual-orientation change efforts.
The N.J. bill is modeled after a 2012 California law that is temporarily enjoined and awaiting a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The California cases — Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown — were filed by counselors, parents and teens, mental-health groups and others who support sexual-orientation change efforts. State officials are defending the law.