While Republicans across the country struggle with their position on gay marriage, Chris Christie has found himself embroiled in an altogether different gay-rights issue in New Jersey. A bill now making its way through the legislature would ban licensed therapists from trying to de-gay people through the humiliating and even inhumane practice known as "conversion therapy" or "reparative therapy." (You may recall that Marcus Bachmann — who is totally straight, by the way — offers it at his clinics.) Christie says that he "does not believe in conversion therapy," but hasn't decided whether or not to sign the bill into law. On Wednesday, he explained his dilemma:
“I’m of two minds just on this stuff in general. Number one, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children,” Christie said at the press conference. “Generally, philosophically, on bills that restrict parents’ ability to make decisions on how to care for their children, I’m generally a skeptic of those bills. Now, there can always be exceptions to those rules and this bill may be one of them."
You can see the pickle in which Christie finds himself. Wariness against government overreach remains (at least in theory, if not always in practice) a bedrock Republican principle, but as tolerance and respect for homosexuality becomes an increasingly mainstream value, Christie's political calculus is unclear, particularly since he faces reelection in blue New Jersey followed by a campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
Politics aside, the issue can be a confusing one simply based on the merits. Today, the Star-Ledger, a paper that endorsed Barack Obama and John Kerry for president, came down on the side of parental rights. "It’s not always clear what’s in the best interest of a child and, depending on a parent’s point of view, doctors take very different approaches," the editorial board argues. "The state shouldn’t make that choice for them."
Jim Kolbe, the libertarian-leaning former GOP congressman from Arizona who came out in 1996, tells Daily Intelligencer that he finds himself "in the same position as Governor Christie. "
"It is irrefutable that gay-conversion therapy is at best ineffective, at worst bogus and harmful," Kolbe says. "All it can succeed in doing is driving a gay person back into the closet."
At the same time, though, Kolbe says "it is also irrefutable that smoking is harmful to one's health. And much as I hate smoking, I don't want to ban it as a private activity as long as it is done where it doesn't injure my health. So, I would not favor banning gay-conversion therapy, certainly not for an adult."
In the case of children, Kolbe thinks we should "rely on existing child protection statutes and mechanisms of state Child Protective Services to sort out the questions of possible damage to a young person's mental health by being forced into therapy. That's the appropriate role of such agencies and the juvenile courts."
But the Log Cabin Republicans — a group committed not only to gay equality but also, according to its website, "promoting the core values of limited government" — urge Christie to sign the ban.
"This isn't about tolerance or parental rights so much as it is the rights of the child," Gregory Angelo, the group's executive director, tells Daily Intelligencer. "So-called 'conversion' therapy is fraudulent pseudoscience and shouldn't be given legal credence."
"The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association have all denounced this practice as illegitimate and dangerous," Angelo continues. "Being gay is not a choice. We hope all parents — including Chris Christie — take this into account when choosing whether to support this bill."