Christie says no to gay-conversion therapy: Risky or shrewd? (+video)
New Jersey Gov. Christie is staking out positions that risk angering the GOP base. What could lead to victory in a blue state stronghold could also hurt him in 2016 presidential primaries.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie marched into the culture wars for the third time in four days Monday, signing a bill banning gay-conversion therapy for minors and making the state the second in the nation, after California, to outlaw the practice.Skip to next paragraph
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Saying government should “tread carefully” when it limits parents’ choices for the care and treatment of their own children, Governor Christie said he “reluctantly” signed the bill, because expert consensus says the practice – also known as “reparative therapy” – increases the health risks to gay teens, including depression, substance abuse, 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,” the governor said in a statement. Christie also cited the American Psychological Association, which, along with The American Medical Association and other professional organizations, has found the therapy harmful.
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Yet Christie’s approval of the ban comes immediately after he gave the go-ahead for the use of medical marijuana for children last Friday – a measure in which he cited parents’ freedom to choose as one of the most important reasons to allow minors to ingest the drug to treat certain illnesses.
The governor also vetoed a number of gun-control measures the same day, including a ban on a powerful rifle that he had previously supported – a decision applauded by gun-supporters.
It’s the kind of red-state-blue-state political shuffle that many observers see as crafty maneuvers designed to appeal to an electorate far beyond the left-leaning state. As he attempts to bolster his conservative bona fides with the GOP base, he is also trying to create distance from the perceived doctrinal rigidity of the Republican Party, especially on social issues, with the larger electorate he'll need in a general election.
Indeed, should he win this November’s race for governor – as most expect him to do easily – he will prove again his significant crossover appeal in a state President Obama carried by huge margins in 2008 and 2012. This would leave him well-poised to make a run for the White House in 2016.
“I actually think this plays to his strengths,” says David Mark, editor-in-chief of the online political site, Politix. “He can say, ‘I’m not beholden to anybody, I’m an independent, I go my own ways.’ It’s in the same line with his action on Hurricane Sandy last fall, when he embraced President Obama.”
Even so, many believe his ban of gay-conversion therapy comes with few political risks on the national stage. More Americans than ever before now believe people are born gay, according to a Pew Research study, and find this kind of therapy meaningless.
“I think in a strange way, the current state of anti-gay politics makes this relatively small potatoes,” says Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College in Manhattan. “One of the reasons I think that is because even among Christian fundamentalists, this particular conversion-therapy thing has diminished as a powerful issue.”