New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has opposed same-sex marriage, said that gay people are born that way and it is not a sin.
The statement was released as he signed a bill banning therapy that tries to change a minor's sexual orientation. Christie said such efforts pose "critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”
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"Exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate," Christie, 50, said Monday in the statement.
Christie, who is seeking re-election for governor in November and appears to be positioning himself to run for president in 2016, has walked a fine line on issues surrounding homosexuality as polls show a majority of Republicans oppose gay marriage amid broader acceptance of the practice.
A Gallup poll last month showed about two-thirds of Republicans are against making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. states. The survey of about 2,000 adults found that 52 percent of all voters favor such a measure.
Christie told CNN's Piers Morgan in 2011 that while he is Catholic and his church believes homosexuality is a sin, he doesn’t share the view. “If someone is born that way, it’s very difficult to say then that that's a sin," he said, a quotation reproduced in today's statement.
Yet on Feb. 17, 2012, Christie vetoed a same-sex marriage bill, saying he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Three weeks earlier, he nominated Bruce Harris, a Republican and openly gay lawyer, to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Senate Democrats declined to confirm Harris after the nominee said he would recuse himself from any matters involving gay-marriage issues.
Christie has said he'd support a referendum on gay marriage. Democrats have balked at a statewide vote on a matter that they say is a civil right.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on why the governor has divided philosophies on conversion therapy and same-sex marriage. Colin Reed, a spokesman for the governor, said in the prepared statement that Christie's action on conversion therapy "is consistent with his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin."
New Jersey permits same-sex civil-unions under a 2006 law, one that Christie has said he supports. Seven gay couples sued in 2011, claiming in state Superior Court that the statute has made them a separate legal class whose rights aren't fully understood or recognized.
On Aug. 2, Christie's administration filed a brief in that case, saying the state had made a "rational decision to reserve the name of marriage for heterosexual couples."
As the court case plays out, Democratic lawmakers are pushing for an override of Christie's veto.
Christie is a Roman Catholic. In July, the faith's leader, Pope Francis, opposed a stance by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who had written that gays shouldn’t be priests.
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" the Pope told reporters on a return flight to Rome from Brazil.
Republicans nationally have emphasized opposition to gay marriage as a central tenet of the party, which is heavily influenced by the social-issues activists — including many evangelical Christians — who dominate early presidential contests such as the Iowa caucus that select its presidential contenders.
The 2012 Republican Party platform endorsed efforts to protect "traditional marriage," asserting that it was best for children and that its erosion ultimately led to bigger and more costly government.
Yet following their 2012 election losses, when Republicans failed to win the White House or take over the U.S. Senate, many party leaders are rethinking their approach. A March report on remaking the party argued that it "must, in fact and deed, be inclusive and welcoming," or risk alienating young people, women and others "who agree with us on some but not all issues" — a recommendation seen as a call for Republicans to tone down their rhetoric on gay marriage.
The party’s social conservative wing rejected that approach, demonstrating its sway the month after the report's release at a gathering in Los Angeles, when the Republican National Committee approved a resolution affirming core values, including that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Still, Christie isn’t alone among potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders in distancing himself from the party's core supporters on gay marriage. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, backed by the small-government tea party and known for his libertarian views, has come out in opposition to a national law banning same-sex marriage, saying the matter should be left to the states.
New Jersey becomes the second state, after California, to ban gay-conversion therapy. The law, which passed New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled legislature in June, prohibits licensed professional counselors — including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and social workers — from engaging in practices designed to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18.
California's law is being challenged in court by therapists who say the state can cite no specific evidence that the therapy is bad for kids and the law illegally quells doctor-patient speech.
New Jersey's law was crafted to avoid such a challenge, according to Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, a Montclair-based advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Stevenson cheered Christie's support of the gay-conversion therapy ban, and said he hopes the governor will come around and support same-sex marriage. Christie is seeking a second term in November in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans and a majority of residents support gay marriage.
Advocates are emboldened by two rulings in June by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex married couples and cleared the way for weddings to resume in California.
"The best way to ensure our LGBT youth are protected from the abuse of being ostracized is to provide them with full equality," Stevenson said in a statement. "We must provide all [New Jersey] youth with acceptance, with hope for the future, and yes, the promise of the dignity to marry the person that they love."
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