As New Jersey Democrats push a ban on “gay conversion therapy” for minors this week, Gov. Chris Christie (R) faces a serious test on the issue of gay rights that could impair his 2013 re-election bid.
Christie said Wednesday that he has not yet decided whether to support the ban, but he did reaffirm his opposition to same-sex marriage.
“I’m of two minds just on this stuff in general,” Christie said at a news conference Wednesday, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger. “Number one, I think there should be lots of deference given to parents on raising their children. I don’t — this is a general philosophy, not to his bill — 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.”
Christie added that he knows little about conversion therapy and will review the issue when the bill reaches his desk. The legislation was voted out of committee and sent to the full Senate this week.
Whether or not it reaches his desk, the bill is already becoming an election issue for Christie after his Democratic opponent for re-election, state Sen. Barbara Buono, criticized him for failing to denounce the therapy.
“Gay children don’t need to be cured,” Buono told reporters on a conference call, according to the Star Ledger.
Buono, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, called the practice “nothing short of child abuse” and “cruel and damaging.”
“The governor said he doesn’t know much about gay conversion therapy. I don’t know how much more you need to know,” she said, calling the practice “nothing short of child abuse. I couldn’t believe the stunning level of ignorance that that statement showed,” she added.
Polls show Buono trailing Christie by wide margins.
Major medical groups including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association oppose gay “reparative” or “conservation” therapy.
Christie’s comments come just days after the Republican National Committee urged Republicans to be more tolerant of gay Americans as part of an attempt to repair the party’s brand after their 2012 election losses. It also comes after Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) declared his support for same-sex marriage, a move which earned him the praise of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Christie applauded Portman’s new stance at the press conference Wednesday, but said Portman’s announcement has not changed his own opinion on the issue. The New Jersey governor supports civil unions for same-sex couples.
California is the only state to have banned gay conversion therapy, though a federal appeals temporarily blocked the law in December pending the outcome of a lawsuit to overturn it.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.