TRENTON, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a law on Monday barring licensed therapists from trying to turn gay teenagers straight, the latest example of the potential 2016 presidential candidate steering a moderate course.

The governor 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,” he said in the signing note, “and I do so here reluctantly.”

The decision marked the third time this month that Christie has staked out a moderate position on a hot-button social issue as he seeks a second term in a Democratic-leaning state. It also offers more evidence that the popular governor is positioning himself as a pragmatist who shuns more conservative elements within his party.

Christie found middle ground on medical marijuana for children when he agreed Friday to allow growers to cultivate additional strains, and for marijuana to be made in an edible form for chronically ill children. But he would not lift an oversight provision that could require as many as three doctors to sign off on a prescription.

His approval of the conversion therapy ban could be met with criticism in Christian conservative circles with influence in early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.

In signing the ban, Christie reiterated his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin, a position he first stated in a 2011 interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. That view is inconsistent with his Catholic faith, which teaches that homosexual acts are sins.

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.

“It is our truest hope that the governor will realize, as the majority of the legislature and a super-majority of the public have realized, that the best way to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth are protected from the abuse of being ostracized is to provide them with equality,” Troy Stevenson, executive director of the state’s largest gay rights group, Garden State Equality, said in a statement.

Christie has said he supports the state’s civil union law, which was enacted to give gay couples the benefits of marriage but not the title. Several couples have since sued, claiming the law provides them unequal treatment. A court decision is expected next month.

Gay rights groups say conversion therapy damages young people, because it tells them that it’s not acceptable to be whoever they are.

Some social conservatives framed the debate as a parental rights issue, saying a ban on the counseling would limit the ability of parents to do what they think is best for their children.