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Topics In the News
 
New Jersey Bans Reparative Therapy for Minors
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/19/13
Last updated on: 11/09/13
 
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High School senior Jacob Rudolph: "I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed."

On August 19, 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill banning reparative therapy, also known as sexual orientation conversion therapy, for minors. The signing makes New Jersey the second state to prohibit such therapies for minors. The bill had been passed by the New Jersey legislature by large bipartisan margins, but there was some doubt that Christie would sign it, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it.

Christie issued the following "signing statement" in which he explained his decision to sign the legislation:

Assembly Bill No. 3371, which I have signed today, prohibits individuals who are licensed to provide professional counseling under Title 45 of the New Jersey statutes from attempting to change a minor's sexual orientation.

At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children. I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly. I have scrutinized this piece of legislation with that concern in mind.

However, I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards. 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.

I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate. Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law."

In a press release, the Governor pointed out that he has previously stated that he was opposed to conversion therapy and that "his action on this bill is consistent with his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin."

On September 29, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed into law a similar bill. In doing so, Brown said, "This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery."

However, the California law has been challenged in federal court as unconstitutionally limiting freedom of speech. A decision in that case is expected soon.

Many analysts are discussing how Christie's decision to sign the bill will affect his presidential aspirations, particularly his chances of winning the Republican nomination.

Christie could have allowed the bill to become law without his signature. But to have done that may have made him appear indecisive or cowardly. Had he vetoed the bill, the veto may have been overridden by the legislature, and that would have made him appear weak. Moreover, given his earlier statements opposing conversion therapy, a veto would have made it appear that he was pandering to right-wing extremists in the Republican Party.

The decision to sign the bill will no doubt be popular in New Jersey and in the nation as a whole, but it is likely to be rouse the ire of Christian Evangelicals who support the "ex-gay" movement and who promote reparative therapy.

The reparative therapy movement is rooted in the work of 1960s psychologists such as Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, who claimed that homosexuality was both pathological and susceptible to change. When their position was repudiated by the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the category of "illness," they launched a counter-offensive against the views of the psychological and psychiatric establishment.

In 1992, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was established. Led by Joseph Nicolosi and Charles Socarides, and funded largely by right-wing religious and political organizations, NARTH is self-described as "a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to affirming a complementary, male-female model of gender and sexuality." It essentially espouses the view of homosexuality that was dominant in the 1950s and 1960s: that a homosexual "preference" results from a developmental problem, especially a child's failure to identify properly with adult figures of the same gender.

Sexual orientation change efforts pose serious health risks, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. For minors, who are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of misled parents who either do not know or do not believe that the practice is harmful, the risks of long-term mental and physical health consequences are particularly severe.

On March 19, 2013, Parsippany, New Jersey high school senior Jacob Rudolph delivered moving testimony to the Health Committee of the New Jersey Senate, as it considered the bill that Christie signed into law. Rudolph said, "I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed."

The video below is of Rudolph's speech before the Senate Health Committee on March 19, 2013.

 
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