Licensed therapists are banned from using conversion therapy to try to change a child’s sexual orientation from gay to straight under a bill Gov. Chris Christie signed Monday (Aug. 19), making New Jersey the second state to prohibit the practice.
But a national Christian legal group that blocked an identical law from taking effect in California earlier this year vowed to sue New Jersey, saying the legislation violates the First Amendment rights of parents and therapists.
The new law prevents any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselors related to these professions from using sexual orientation change efforts with a children under age 18.
Offenders jeopardize their licensed status under the new law, which does not apply to clergy, or anyone who is not licensed by the state.
In his signing statement, Christie noted many leading health organizations had determined such therapy was ineffective and harmful.
“The American Psychological Association 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,” Christie wrote. “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”
Christie, a Catholic, had publicly stated his opposition to conversion therapy because he said he believes people are born gay. Asked about the bill at a campaign event on Monday, the Republican governor would only say, “The signing statement speaks for itself.”
Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said his organization “will immediately file suit” at the request of New Jersey counselors and parents and national counseling organizations.
“The New Jersey governor is putting himself in every counseling room, dictating what kind of counseling clients can receive,” Staver said. “This bill provides a slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”
The hearings on the bill draw angry responses from gay rights advocates, family groups and people who had freely used gay conversion therapy to lead heterosexual lives.
Arthur Goldberg, co-director of the Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, called the law “a tragic mistake.”
“There are teenagers who go to mom and dad and say ‘I don’t want to be this way,’ as long as voluntary and not coercive, what’s the problem?” he said.