A longer version of this story ran in Friday's paper, here.
UPDATE, 4:40 pm: A Christie spokesman just emailed me saying that the governor "does not believe in conversion therapy." He also cited his comments, in the video below, that sexual orientation is determined at birth. But he won't say whether he will sign the gay conversion ban until he sees the bill in its final form.
Gov. Christie said yesterday that he wasn't sure if he would sign a bill to ban the sometimes graphic practice of using therapies to turn a gay child into a straight child.
And now, his expected challenger in November, State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), a co-sponsor of the bill banning gay conversion therapy of minors, calls that indecision "disgusting." The Buono team clearly senses an opening here to cast the governor as a right-wing fanatic.
Asked yesterday about the bill, which passed out of a legislative committee Monday and has yet to be approved by the full Democratic Legislature, Christie said that he generally doesn't decide on bills before they reach his desk and he had only recently heard of the practice of gay conversion.
He also said: "You know, I’m of two minds on this stuff in general. One, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children...and this is general philosophical now not to this bill, but generally philosophically on bills that restrict parents' ability to make decisions on how to care for their children. I’m generally a skeptic on those things. Now, there can always be exceptions to those rules and this bill maybe one of them."
Buono's reaction: "I was shocked at the stunning level of ignorance that statement showed."
She accused Christie of playing to the right. "All of this governor's decisions are geared to what plays in the national Republican party," Buono said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon to address the issue.
The bill, which passed out of committee with all Democrats voting in favor and all but one Republican voting no or abstaining, is short and straightforward. It would forbid licensed therapists and counselors from trying to change the sexual orientation of a minor.
Senators heard dramatic testimony yesterday about such conversion therapy, with a transgender woman from Toms River telling of being forced to go to a conversion camp in Ohio, where she was shocked with electricity and given vomit-inducing medicine while being shown "unacceptable" images.
"I was shocked repeatedly by people who had my parents' permission to torture me," said Brielle Sophia Goldani.
Others who experienced gay conversion told of being forced to masturbate while looking at images of naked women and being shown pictures of AIDS victims.
Opponents said that banning conversion therapy -- also known as reparative therapy -- would violate parents' rights and the First Amendment.
"I don't understand why you people are coming into our homes and trying to tell us what to do with our minor children," said Carol Gallentine of Living Free Ministries in North Jersey. "Under 18, it's the parents' right, it's our civil right, to bring up our children the best we can."
Christie opposes gay marriage but doesn't believe homosexuality is a sin (see video below). He favors civil unions and wants a ballot referendum so voters can decide on gay marriage.
Here's what Christie said yesterday at a town hall meeting:
You know it was the first – not last week, but as there’s been discussion of this – it’s the first I’ve ever heard of it. I hadn’t heard of conversion therapy before the bill got into effect. So, I know basically what I’ve read in the papers, so I don’t want to give too much of a comment on it. We’ll take a look at the bill when it reaches my desk and it appears it’s going to. So, we’ll take a look at it then. You know, I’m of two minds on this stuff in general. One, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children and I don’t – and this is general philosophical now not to this bill, but generally philosophically on bills that restrict parents ability to make decisions on how to care for their children I’m generally a skeptic on those things. Now, there can always be exceptions to those rules and this bill maybe one of them, but and I haven’t looked at the bill yet in any detail and as you know I don’t usually look at this bills until they’re passed because right up to the last minute they’re often changed. And then something you said a week ago can be completely different a week later. So, when the bill gets to my desk I will certainly take a look at it. I don’t have any hardened fast position on this standing here today. I’m open to reading this bill and considering it and talking to both the proponents and opponents because I assume on almost every bill except for proclamation bills there are proponents and opponents. So, we’ll be happy to listen to folks in the normal course and then I’ll make a decision when I have to. But the first I’ve really heard about conversion therapy was when this debate started in the legislature with the introduction of the bill.
And here's Buono's statement in response:
Gay children don't need to be cured, they need to be loved and accepted for who they are, just like all of our children. Yet, Gov. Christie says he's "of two minds" on banning gay conversion therapy, a cruel and damaging process of trying to shame children into being someone they're not. It's an outrageous practice and it has no place in New Jersey. That Gov. Christie would dignify this shameful practice is disgusting. I urge all New Jerseyans who value equality to speak out and make clear to Gov. Christie that his intolerance has no place in our state.