New Jersey counselors are about to find out whether they will lose the legal right to help minors address same-sex attraction. Earlier this summer, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill banning counselors from working with minors struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions. The bill now sits on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. Christie has been tight-lipped on his stance, leaving parents and counselors wondering whether he will veto the bill, sign it, or ignore it until it automatically becomes law early next week.
New Jersey is among only a few states to consider such a ban. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have similar legislation pending, and California passed a ban last year.
The California law prohibited any reparative therapy for minors struggling with same-sex attraction, and forced adults receiving the therapy to sign a release form agreeing that the counseling is possibly ineffective and dangerous. Both the Pacific Justice Institute and Liberty Counsel filed legal challenges in California, contesting the law’s infringement on First Amendment rights. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the law on hold while the case moves through the courts.
The nearly identical New Jersey law would prohibit counseling “to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.” It is not an overall ban on counseling for same-sex attraction issues—the bill clarifies that it does allow “counseling for a person seeking to transition from one gender to another.”
The bill’s supporters say the government has a right to prohibit such counseling because it could cause emotional problems. The chief of staff for Assemblyman Tim Eustace, who sponsored the bill, said supporters believe this kind of counseling for minors qualifies as child abuse. He said they do not believe the ban is unconstitutional, because the state regularly regulates what counselors can do.
But the New Jersey Family Policy Council disagrees. It’s president, Len Deo, told CitizenLink the ban usurps parents’ rights: “Most parents want to assist their children—this legislation invades the intimacy of the family.”
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman, said the 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. This law would inflict serious damage to children, parents, and counselors.”
During the legislative debate, Christie said, “I’m of two minds just on this stuff in general.” He said he is generally a skeptic of bills that restrict parents’ ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, but he thinks there may be exceptions. This could be one of them. Kevin Roberts, a Christie spokesman, gave little clue about Christie’s frame of mind now, saying only that he doesn’t think the governor supports conversion therapy.