The unlikely issue of gay-conversion therapy for children was injected into the New Jersey governor's race Thursday, with Republican Gov. Chris Christie ultimately saying he opposed the controversial practice.
Still, Christie would not commit to signing a bill -- co-sponsored by his likely gubernatorial opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex -- that would forbid licensed counselors from trying to change the sexual orientation of minors.
The issue moved at a rapid pace at a Wednesday afternoon news conference, with Christie initially saying he was undecided on the pending bill. Within 24 hours, Buono had held a conference call with reporters to denounce him; the Democratic Governors Association launched a fundraising blitz to stop "right-wing reactionary" Christie; and CNN took up the issue.
By Thursday afternoon, a Christie spokesman said the governor opposed gay-conversion therapy. As is his practice, Christie will not say whether he will sign a bill until he sees the final version. So far, only a state Senate committee has considered it.
Buono, though, called that apparent indecision "disgusting." Evidently sensing an opening to cast the governor as an extremist, Buono accused Christie of taking his cues from national Republicans.
"Gay children don't need to be cured, they need to be loved like all of our children," Buono said. "It's an outrageous practice that has no place in New Jersey."
Christie initially said he had only recently heard about gay conversion and had not yet read the bill.
"You know, I'm of two minds on this stuff in general," Christie said Wednesday. "One, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children. ... I'm generally a skeptic on those things. Now there can always be exceptions to those rules, and this bill may be one of them."
Buono's reaction: "I was shocked at the stunning level of ignorance that statement showed."
The bill passed a Senate committee Monday, with all Democrats voting in favor and all but one Republican voting no or abstaining. The Assembly has not acted.
Democratic legislators cited medical and psychological research saying it is not possible to change a person's sexuality, and one called such therapy "a form of child abuse."
Senators heard dramatic testimony about conversion therapy, with a transgender woman from Toms River telling of being forced to go to a conversion camp in Ohio, where she was shocked with electricity and given vomit-inducing medicine while being shown "unacceptable" images.
"I was shocked repeatedly by people who had my parents' permission to torture me," Brielle Sophia Goldani said.
Others who experienced gay-conversion treatments told of being shown photos of AIDS victims and forced to masturbate while looking at images of naked women.
Parsippany High School student Jacob Rudolph, whose recent video depicting him coming out to his classmates drew 1.7 million YouTube views, also testified at the hearing: "I am not broken, I am not confused, and I do not need to be fixed."
Opponents of the bill said the anecdotes about electric shocks were extreme examples of therapy and should be forbidden. Men and women describing themselves as former homosexuals said therapy had helped them lead happy heterosexual lives. One man said therapy essentially gave life to his two children.
Others said banning conversion therapy -- also known as reparative therapy -- would violate parents' rights and the First Amendment. They alleged that homosexuals are more prone to child molestation, and one man accused senators who voted for the ban of being "accessories" to molesters.
"I don't understand why you people are coming into our homes and trying to tell us what to do with our minor children," said Carol Gallentine of Living Free Ministries in North Jersey.
Gay issues have long pitted Democrats against Christie. He opposes gay marriage but favors putting a question on the ballot so voters can decide.
He also told CNN's Piers Morgan in 2011 he did not think homosexuality was a sin and believed some people are born gay.
Last year, California passed a similar gay-conversion ban, but its enactment is on hold as it is challenged in court.
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