Defenders of so-called gay conversion therapies vowed to continue the fight Monday after Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a measure making New Jersey the second state to ban the therapy targeting gay teens who want to change their sexual orientation.
The bill forbids any psychologist, social worker or licensed therapist from counseling children younger than 18 into changing their sexual orientation. California passed a similar law in 2012, outlawing therapists from offering the service for minors.
Gay conversion — or reparation — therapy advocates say the practice can help counsel troubled teens dealing with their sexuality or who express a desire to become heterosexual. But critics claim the therapies don’t work, can cause emotional and psychological damage and, in the words of Democratic Assembly member Tim Eustace, an openly gay lawmaker and one of the New Jersey bill’s sponsors, amount to “an insidious form of child abuse.”
Matt Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, which supports gay conversion therapy, said the group plans to file suit in the very near future to overturn the New Jersey statute, arguing in part the law is an infringement on parental rights to raise their children the way they see fit, or to seek counseling in the wake traumatic events.
“The 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,” Mr. Staver said, referring to the former Penn State football coach convicted of child molestation. Mr. Staver added that the bill provides a “slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”
Arthur Goldberg, co-founder of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, which also advocates for gay conversion therapies, said the Legislature and Mr. Christie were misled about the true intent of the new law.
“The decision [to use conversion therapy] should be a joint decision between a parent and child,” Mr. Goldberg said. “By the age of 14, children are old enough to know if they want help or not.”
The bill, which passed both houses of the Democrat-dominated Legislature in June, presented a political dilemma for the governor, who is seeking a second term in November and is widely thought to be considering a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
The governor said the health risks of trying to change a child’s sexual orientation, as identified by the American Psychological Association, trump concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice.
“I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” Mr. Christie said. “Government should tread carefully into this area, and I do so here reluctantly.”
Political analysts say the decision may hurt the governor with some social conservatives in the GOP political base, but will also solidify his reputation as a pragmatist willing to stake out more centrist positions than some of his potential 2016 rivals.
The gay conversion movement took a hit when Exodus International, a Christian group based in California, shut down last month after 38 years and founder Alan Chambers apologized to gays for the harm he said his group had caused.
Gay groups praised Mr. Christie’s decision.
Said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality group, in a statement: “There is no greater achievement than helping to stop the abuse of our youth. [Today’s 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.’”