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Anti-'gay conversion' bill marks Christie's latest move to center

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to sign a bill banning therapy to turn gay teens straight marks the third time this month that the Republican governor has staked a moderate position on social issues -- as he continues to set the stage for a potential 2016 presidential run.

As a Republican in a Democrat-leaning state, Christie has had some leeway among conservatives, but his most recent moves toward the center are sure to fuel the debate about his chances in a GOP presidential primary. 

However, others argue that Christie in fact represents a new breed of conservative politician -- one better positioned to win a general election, yet still appealing to primary voters. 

“While his actions seem to be attracting moderates, his principles and convictions are no doubt conservative,” Republican strategist Tyler Harber told FoxNews.com on Tuesday. “Christie is the personification of the next generation of mainstream, conservative candidates who are focused on individual freedom and pursuit of life without heavy government intervention.”

Harber, a partner in Washington-based Harcom Strategies International who saw Christie speak at the Republican National Committee’s summer meetings last week, said Christie wowed the majority of attendees with his command of the issues and skills as a potential candidate and that he so far appears to be Republicans' best answer to Hillary Clinton as a possible Democratic candidate in 2016. 

Christie signing the so-called “gay-conversion” law Monday follows his decision last week to allow medical-marijuana growers to cultivate additional strains and OK marijuana being made into an edible form for chronically ill children.

And last week, Christie vetoed a bill banning .50-caliber rifles that was vigorously opposed by firearms-rights advocates and gutted a proposed overhaul of the state's gun-permit law that relied on undeveloped technology. That follows him signing 10 less-significant gun measures the Democrat-led Legislature passed after last year's deadly school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Christie, who appears on his way to winning a second gubernatorial term in November, said he signed the latest bill banning "gay conversion" "reluctantly." 

He said the health risks of trying to change a child's sexual orientation, as identified by the American Psychological Association, trump concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice. 

"Government should tread carefully into this area," Christie said in the signing note, "and I do so here reluctantly."

The biggest opposition in 2016 to that decision will likely come from Christian conservative circles with influence in early voting states such as Iowa and South Carolina.

In signing the ban, Christie reiterated his belief that some people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin, which is inconsistent with his Catholic faith.

Christie said on "issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards," citing a litany of potential ill effects of trying to change sexual orientation, including depression, drug abuse and suicide.

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

Christie, however, has not moderated his position on gay marriage, which he vetoed and continues to oppose. As a result, gay rights activists applauded Monday's bill signing but pushed for more.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.