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N.J. governor bans conversion therapy

by KATE ZERNIKE New York Times News Service on August 20, 2013 10:40 AM

BELLEVILLE, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill Monday outlawing therapy that aims to convert gay children to heterosexuals, making New Jersey the second state to ban the controversial practice.

Christie, a Republican, waited until the last possible minute to make his decision on the bill. If he had not signed or vetoed it by Monday, it would have gone into law automatically.

Before the Legislature approved the bill by a wide margin this summer, Christie had said he was “of two minds” on it: he believes that parents should be left alone to decide how to raise their children, but, as a spokesman later clarified, he does not believe in so-called conversion therapy, which claims to “cure” gays and lesbians, in some cases by forcing them to masturbate to images of the opposite sex.

The governor has all but declared his intention to run for president in 2016, and had to be mindful of conservative primary-state voters who would see the bill as government intrusion into child-rearing.

But the therapy has lost significant support in recent years, as leading scientific and medical groups have disputed the idea that sexual orientation can be changed, and argued that the therapy can cause, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.”

In June, Exodus International, a Christian group that was a leading proponent of conversion therapy, disbanded after 37 years, apologizing to gays and lesbians for the harm it had caused.

Gay rights advocates said they hoped that signing the bill signaled an “evolution” for the governor, a Roman Catholic who last year vetoed legislation that would have allowed same-sex marriage.

“I hope that the governor, in saying that he believes that New Jersey’s youth deserve protection, means that he sees that the next step in that evolution is to allow those same youth the dignity of marriage in their future,” said Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Garden State Equality, the state’s leading gay rights group. “To say that someday they will be fully included in society instead of being relegated to second-class citizenship, as they are now.”

California banned conversion therapy for minors last year, though a legal challenge is pending, and the Massachusetts legislature is considering a similar ban.

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