New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday signed a ban on so-called ex-gay therapy for minors, issuing some interesting comments alongside his eleventh hour approval of the bill.
Said Christie in a statement released to the press:
“At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children. I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly,” Christie said.
“However, I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,” he added. “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate. Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law.”
The legislation in question means that from now on those licensed to provide counseling services in the state are no longer allowed to attempt “sexual orientation change efforts” with any patient under the age of 18. The ban does not affect situations involving a patient older than that age. The legislation specifically states, however, that “Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming.”
The bill received overwhelming support in the legislature earlier this year, passing the state Senate with a 28-9 vote and the state Assembly with a 56-14 vote.
As noted above, Christie had at first appeared wary of the legislation, floating concerns that the bill infringed on parental rights. That Christie ultimately did sign the bill appears in line with his previous statements on sexuality that he does not believe homosexuality is a sin.
Interestingly, even if Christie had not signed the bill, the legislation passed through both chambers with enough bipartisan support to muster a veto proof majority. Whether that would have been invoked, however, is debatable.
Christie is seeking re-election this year, and makes this decision to sign the ban on ex-gay therapy for minors in no small part against the larger backdrop of a widely tipped 2016 Republican presidential campaign. As such, Christie continues to walk a fine line between pleasing liberals on several issues, for instance on Friday he issued a recommendation in favor of allowing children to access medical marijuana, while also speaking to his conservative base by, say, vetoing three gun control measures.
“He recognizes what many opponents of marriage equality do not recognize, which is that gay people are not in need of treatment,” state senator Raymond Lesniak (D) is quoted as saying. “That’s certainly an important statement to make and he made that with his signing of the bill.”
Lesniak went on to say that marriage equality would be the next “natural step.” Not for the Governor, however.
Christie vetoed a same-sex marriage bill in 2012 and, with lawmakers once again looking to revisit the issue, he issued a stark warning that he would not hesitate to institute a veto a second time around and urged the legislature to put the issue to a public referendum.
This is despite growing Republican support for marriage equality in New Jersey and the potential for advocates to find not just a majority for the legislation but a veto proof majority at that. Christie, however, as a Republican candidate for governorship, has an extra cache this year and it would be almost unthinkable that Republicans would vote to override his wishes so close to re-election.
Regardless, marriage equality may arrive another way for New Jersey. A marriage equality lawsuit is currently awaiting judgement that attempts to establish per the wealth of established law, including the Supreme Court of the United State’s ruling against DOMA Section 3, that New Jersey’s civil unions law renders same-sex couples as second class and violates both state and federal guarantees of equal rights.
The only other state to have passed a ban on conversion attempts for minors is California. There, the legislation is currently on hold after so-called ex-gay therapists sued, claiming the ban infringed their freedom of speech, parental rights and freedom of religion.
New Jersey has seen its own ex-gay therapy lawsuit, but of a different kind: the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sued on behalf of four men and their mothers contending that the New Jersey-city based organization Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a well known ex-gay therapy group, violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by offering ex-gay therapy when the therapy has never been proven either effective or safe.
That case is set to be heard in the next few months. It seems inevitable that New Jersey’s ban on ex-gay therapy for minors will feature in the SPLC’s arguments.
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