New Jersey on Monday became the second state after California to ban so-called conversion therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of gay minors after Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill to prohibit the controversial practice.
Christie, a Republican, had been expected to sign the legislation, which passed both houses of the state legislature in June.
In a signing letter released after Christie took action, he said that he took into account concerns about the government "limiting parental choice" in the treatment of their children.
"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" the governor added. "The American Psychological Assn. has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem 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. Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law."
Christie, a Roman Catholic who is considered a likely 2016 presidential contender, opposes same-sex marriage, and his state is one of two in the northeast that does not recognize gay marriages. In releasing his signing statement, however, Christie's office included a comment he made to CNN in which he said that despite his church's stance, Christie has "always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual."
The anti-conversion therapy bill, A-3371, declares that being "lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming," and it bans licensed therapists from providing gay-to-straight conversion therapy to children under age 18.
"There is no greater achievement than helping to stop the abuse of our youth," Troy Stevenson of the gay advocacy group Garden State Equality said in a statement immediately after the signing. "It will protect young people from being abused by those they should trust the most, their parents and their doctors."
John Tomicki of the conservative League of American Families has called the bill unconstitutional and vowed in June, after its passage, that opponents would sue to prevent it from taking effect.
A lawsuit prevented California's ban on conversion therapy for minors from taking effect as scheduled at the start of this year, and the legislation remains on hold. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last December to block the law pending a decision on its constitutionality. Opponents have argued that it violates free speech rights.