New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued a statement Monday saying
he "reluctantly" signed a bill that prohibits attempts to convert children from
gay to straight.
Christie said he is reluctant to limit parents' choices when it comes to the care and treatment of their children, but he said in weighting medical experts' positions on the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy, he decided to sign the bill into law.
He cited the American Psychological Association, which has found the treatment can lead to depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
"I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate," Christie wrote.
The governor's banning of conversion therapy comes as he runs for re-election in New Jersey this year and as he positions himself for a possible presidential campaign in 2016. His past comments set him apart from the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, which holds that homosexuality is a sin and is a choice.
Christie deferred to his written statement when asked about the bill signing at a political event in Belleville, N.J., Monday morning.
In addition to the signing statement, Christie's office also distributed a 2011 clip of the governor being interviewed about homosexuality by CNN's Piers Morgan.
Morgan asked Christie if homosexuality is a sin and the governor, who is Catholic, responded that his religion says it is.
"But for me, I've always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual," Christie said in the interview. "And so I think if someone is born that way, it's very difficult to say then that's a sin."
The bill won broad support in the New Jersey Legislature despite objections from supporters of the practice, who said it infringes on the rights of parents.
Christie said he was concerned about that.
"Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly," he wrote. "I have scrutinized this piece of legislation with that concern in mind."
The legislation prohibits licensed counselors _ including psychologists, social workers and therapists _ from attempting to change a child's sexual orientation.
During committee hearings, witnesses described brutal childhood experiences in which they were subjected to conversion therapy efforts.
"Studies and personal testimony have shown this practice creates irreparable harm on young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality," one of the bill's sponsors, Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Maywood, said in a statement Monday.
The legislation passed the Assembly by a 56-14 vote with seven abstentions in June. The same month, the Senate approved it, 28-9.
Garden State Equality, a group that supports gay rights, issued a statement Monday praising Christie's decision to sign the bill.
"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 full equality," the group said.
Until Monday, Christie has mostly earned only criticism from gay advocates. He vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed same-sex marriage in New Jersey, and he insists that the measure should be put to the voters instead. His opponents argue that same-sex marriage is a civil right, and such rights should not be decided by popular vote.
(c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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