By Jim Melwert
TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — Today, New Jersey is becoming just the second state in the country (after California) to ban the controversial practice of gay “conversion therapy,” in which so-called therapists try to turn gay teenagers straight.
The conversion therapy ban passed both houses of the state legislature with bipartisan support, helped through with support from Troy Stevenson of Garden State Equality, who equates the so-called therapy to abuse.
“What it does is, it tells a young person that who they are is wrong, that society will never accept it, that they have to hide, that they have to live this closeted life,” Stevenson says.
And he says that often results in depression or, in the case of one of his childhood friends, even suicide.
Opponents of the ban say it infringes on parental rights, but Gov. Christie says the health risks to the child as identified by the American Psychological Association outweigh those concerns.
Assemblyman Tim Eustace, who sponsored the bill and is openly gay, described the therapy as “an insidious form of child abuse.”
“Government should tread carefully into this area,” Christie said in the signing note, which was obtained by the Associated Press, “and I do so here reluctantly.”
“However, I also believe that on the issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,” Christie said, citing a litany of potential ill effects of trying to change sexual orientation, including depression and suicide. “I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”
Some social conservatives framed the debate as a parental rights issue, saying a ban on the counseling would limit the ability of parents to do what they think is best for their children.
The idea of conversion therapy is an old one that has increasingly drawn criticism for its methods. Last year, four gay men sued a Jersey City group for fraud, saying its program included making them strip naked and attack effigies of their mothers with baseball bats.
Lawmakers heard horror stories from some during hearings on the ban, including Brielle Goldani of Toms River, NJ, who testified she underwent electric shocks and was given drugs to induce vomiting after being sent to an Ohio camp at age 14 to become straight.