New Jersey Democrats think that they have finally found an issue that they can use against Gov. Chris Christie, one of the nation’s most popular executives. The state legislature recently passed a bill that would bar parents from forcing their gay or lesbian children into “gay conversion therapy,” a pseudo-scientific mockery of psychotherapy that attempts to “convert” gays into straights with a mixture of religious brainwashing and talk-therapy that probes into the teen’s psychosexual history, under the premise that homosexuality is not a sexual orientation but rather a sexual dysfunction rooted in a gender-role crisis. Christie won’t commit to signing the bill into law.
The jury is not out on the legitimacy of the practice. While a vulnerable teenager might easily be shamed into repressing his natural desires, there is no way to turn a homosexual into a heterosexual. Every major medical association, including the American Psychological Association, has condemned “conversion therapy” in the strongest terms. Christie has personally condemned the practice, but has cited concerns about state intrusion on parents’ rights.
He should sign the bill. As a Republican who supports a strictly limited role for government, I tend to side with individuals, families, and local communities against centralized power, which too often demands homogeneity and conformity at the expense of liberty. But there are certain situations which demand a one-size-fits-all policy: murder, assault, theft, and fraud are never permissible, for instance, since they are direct, overt acts of aggression. The state also has a duty to help defend those who cannot defend themselves. Government properly reserves the right to intervene against parents who are inflicting abuse upon their children.
If an adult wants to waste his time and money on “gay conversion therapy,” then that is certainly his prerogative. But teenagers lack the legal capacity to object to their parents’ demands. If Gov. Christie can’t decide whether to stand with them against their parents, then he should put himself in the shoes of a gay youth who has to live every day knowing that his parents are ashamed of him and belittle him for his sexual orientation. The state cannot save those kids from the ignorance of their parents, but they can at least protect them from their most egregious excesses. “Gay conversion therapy” is nothing short of psychological abuse when a teenager is subjected to it, and Christie should call it for what it is. He has stated that he is “tired of dealing with the crazies” in the right-wing base. This bill is a perfect opportunity to prove that he means it.