Gov. Christie faces suit on gay therapy ban

HACKENSACK, N.J. — A psychologist and a counselor are suing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a bid to block a measure he signed into law on Monday that bans the use of a practice known as gay conversion therapy on minors.

The suit, filed in federal court in Trenton, N.J., challenges the constitutionality of a law that aims to protect minors by prohibiting counselors — including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers — from trying to change the sexual orientation of anyone under 18.

Ronald Newman, a Linwood, N.J., psychologist, and Tara King, a licensed professional counselor from Brick, N.J., brought the legal action on behalf of themselves and their patients, and were joined by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality of Utah and the Virginia-based American Association of Christian Counselors.

The suit seeks to immediately halt enforcement of the law as well as a judicial declaration that the law violates state and federal constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

By preventing minors from seeking counseling to reduce or eliminate “their unwanted same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors and identities,” the law “denies or severely impairs plaintiffs’ clients and all minors their right to self-determination, their right to prioritize their religious and moral values, and their right to receive effective counseling consistent with those values,” the suit says.

It also infringes on the rights of parents “to direct the upbringing and education of their children” and harms counselors by placing them in a “Catch-22,” in which they must choose between violating ethical codes or the law, the suit says.

Christie, a Republican, is running for re-election in left-leaning New Jersey this year, but is also viewed as a likely GOP presidential contender in 2016. Signing the conversion therapy bill into law was one of several controversial actions with national political implications that Christie has taken in recent weeks. They include vetoing a series of bills aimed at reducing gun violence, and conditionally vetoing a measure that would have made medical marijuana more accessible for severely ill children.

A Christie spokesman, Colin Reed, declined to comment on the lawsuit on Friday and instead referred to the statement the governor issued when he signed the conversion therapy bill on Monday.

In that statement, Christie, a Roman Catholic, said he doesn’t consider homosexuality to be a sin because he believes people are predisposed to it at birth.

“I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” he wrote.

Christie also said he signed the bill with some reluctance because it prevents parents from selecting treatment for their children.

However, he cited medical experts who say conversion therapy can cause minors serious harm.

California is the only other state to ban the controversial therapy, but its law is being challenged in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Also named as defendants in the New Jersey suit were Eric Kanefsky, director of the state Department of Law and Public Safety; Milagros Collazo, executive director of the state Board of Marriage and Family Therapy Examiners; Michael Walker, executive director of the state Board of Psychological Examiners; and Paul Jordan, president of the state Board of Medical Examiners.

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