TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that bans the use of therapeutic practices intended to change the sexual orientation of minors – popularly referred to as “conversion therapy.”
“Conversion therapy not only has no basis in science, it is a form of child abuse that has proven to be harmful to young people,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, the bill’s prime sponsor. “With this law, we are acting to protect children and teenagers from being subjected to this cruel practice. As a state, we are also taking a stand against the notion that people who are gay can or should be ‘converted.’ I hope that other states will follow.”
The law (S-2278) prohibits professional counselors, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers, from engaging in practices designed to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18. The law applies only to licensed professionals and to children under 18 years of age and violations of this prohibition will be enforced by the respective professional licensing boards under their rules and regulations.
“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 said. “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”
“The impacts of this kind of so called ‘treatment,’ both short-term and long-term, can be absolutely devastating to those that have been forced into it,” said state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester.) “This law is about protecting our children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these kids and this practice must come to an end immediately.”
A study by the American Psychological Association found that the so-called therapy of conversion practices can cause a wide range of harmful effects for young people, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, hostility and even suicidal tendencies. The American Psychiatric Association has stated that “the potential risks of reparative therapy are great” in its warning against its use for children.
Recently, a group of young people subjected to conversion therapy filed a lawsuit against the counselors who conducted the so-called therapy. In the lawsuit, they described the treatment to include harsh ridicule, visits to bath houses, group nudity sessions and role playing where they are told to violently beat an effigy of their mothers.
“We aren’t telling parents how to raise their children with this law, we are acting to protect young people from abuse,” said Lesniak. “If adults want to make the decision to undergo this process, they can. But minors don’t have the same free choice.”
“The Trevor Project applauds Gov. Christie, New Jersey Senators and Assembly Members for their bipartisan support of a law to protect minors from dangerous and discredited sexual orientation change efforts,” said Abbe Land, executive director and CEO of the national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT and questioning young people.
Some conservatives panned the governor for his action. “This bill is so broad that parents would be prohibited from seeking help for their son who developed unwanted same-sex attractions after being molested by the likes of Jerry Sandusky. Counselors would only be allowed to affirm these unwanted feelings as good and normal. This is absurd and dangerous. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, a non-profit group that says it is “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.”
“Gov. Christie is no friend of free speech,” said Brad Dacus, President of Pacific Justice Institute. “The question here isn’t if sexuality comes from birth or not; the question is ‘Should we allow the government to restrict religious and constitutional freedoms because a forceful LGBT lobby says we should?’ The answer to that question is a resounding ‘No!’”
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