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N.J.'s governor signs bill banning conversion therapy for gay children

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida in 2012. Photo: Harry E. Walker/MCT

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday he “reluctantly” signed a bill that prohibits attempts to convert children from gay to straight.

So-called "conversion therapy" is a topic that triggers fierce debate on both sides. Christie said he is reluctant to limit parents’ choices when it comes to the care and treatment of their children. But he said he decided to sign the bill into law after weighing medical experts’ positions on the practice.

He pointed to the American Psychological Association's findings. The organization has determined 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.

Running For Second Term

The ban comes as Christie runs for re-election in New Jersey this year and prepares for a possible presidential campaign in 2016. His past comments set him apart from less moderate parts of the Republican Party. They consider homosexuality a sin and think that people choose to be homosexual and are not born gay.

Christie did not answer questions when asked about the bill signing at a political event on Monday morning. He pointed reporters to his written statement instead.

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. The governor, who is Catholic, responded that his religion says it is.

But Christie said in the interview he believed that gay people were born with the tendency to be homosexual. “And so I think if someone is born that way, it’s very difficult to say then that’s a sin.”

Broad Support In Legislature

The bill won broad support from New Jersey lawmakers. But supporters of the practice said the law interferes with parents' rights.

Christie said he was concerned about that.

“Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly,” he wrote. He looked closely at the law with that in mind, he said.

The law prohibits licensed counselors from trying to change a child from being attracted to people of the same sex. Counselors include psychologists, social workers and therapists.

During committee hearings, witnesses described brutal childhood experiences in which people tried the therapy on them.

"Studies and personal testimony have shown" the practice can harm young people for good while they are struggling with personal issues about sex,  Assemblyman Tim Eustace said in a statement Monday. He was one of the bill's sponsors.

Christie Praised for Signing

The legislation passed the Assembly by a 56-14 in June. Seven lawmakers chose not to vote. The Senate approved it by a vote of 28-9 that same month.

Garden State Equality, a group that supports gay rights, issued a statement Monday praising Christie’s decision to sign the bill.

The group said it hoped that Christie would realize that the best way to protect gay youth from the abuse of being shunned was to make sure they were treated equally.

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. 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.

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