Scottish Parliament conversion therapy debate: Will “not affirming someone’s gender identity” become a criminal offence?
- The Scottish Parliament is to debate a report from the Equalities Committee calling for a broad conversion therapy ban, modelled after the law in Victoria, Australia.
- But official guidance on the Victoria ban says conversion therapy includes “not affirming someone’s gender identity”, and parents “refusing to support” their children receiving puberty blockers.
- The guidance also targets churches that do not support same-sex relationships.
- The CI’s lawyers recently wrote to the Scottish Government warning it would face a legal challenge if such broad proposals were adopted. This follows advice from leading human rights QC Jason Coppel.
MSPs are due to debate a report of the Equality Committee on 15 March 2022. The report on ‘Petition PE1817: End Conversion Therapy’ frequently makes reference to conversion therapy legislation in the Australian State of Victoria, citing claims it is the “gold standard”. Paragraphs 17 and 162 to 168 of the report endorse Victoria as “best practice” and include suggestions that Scotland may need to go even further.
But the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) – which is responsible for enforcing the ban – says the law there now means that “not affirming someone’s gender identity” is unlawful conversion therapy. The VEOHRC also says parents who do not support their children receiving puberty blockers are breaking the law, as are churches that uphold the belief that homosexuality is “a sin”.
The guidance shows that the conversion therapy ban in Victoria goes far beyond protecting LGBT people from abuse. The VEOHRC says the following “would be considered illegal under the Act”:
“a parent refusing to support their child’s request for medical treatment that will enable them to prevent physical changes from puberty that do not align with the child’s gender identity”
“A religious leader tells a member of their congregation that they will be excommunicated if they continue their same-sex relationship”
(See Ending Conversion Therapy: Debate for more details.)
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director, Simon Calvert, said:
“Criminalising those who uphold basic Christian teaching on sex is deeply oppressive. And the debates around trans issues amply demonstrate that you simply cannot force people – on pain of criminal penalty – to affirm someone’s gender identity. The idea that a parent could be prosecuted for trying to protect their child from damaging puberty blockers is repugnant.
“It is right to prevent abusive and coercive practices. But there is widespread agreement that the genuinely abusive conversion therapy practices often described – like so-called ‘corrective rape’, electroshock therapy and physical abuse – are already illegal in Scotland.
“It’s clear that some of those pushing for a ban aren’t content to end abusive practices. They want to criminalise parents and churches who have opinions they don’t like.”
The CI raised concerns about the Committee’s Report when it was published in January. Out of ten MSPs on the Committee, seven had previously signed a pledge to back a conversion therapy ban by the campaign group they were supposed to be scrutinising. This meant many Committee members declared an interest at each meeting. Out of eight evidence sessions held by the Committee, only one (16 Nov) heard from groups with concerns that a ban could go too far.
Legal advice by human rights expert Jason Coppel QC is clear that a Victoria-style ban is not permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The CI’s lawyers have written to the Scottish Government warning against adopting such proposals.
Notes for Editors:
Previous press releases on the Committee Report:
- Scottish Parliament calls for ban on traditional religious beliefs and prayer. ‘Gender critical’ mums also in the firing line, 25 Jan 2022 – https://bit.ly/3J9rYnp
- Conversion therapy: Christian campaigners warn MSPs they will face court action due to ‘bias’ and inadequate scrutiny if Holyrood passes proposed ban law, 24 Jan 2022 – https://bit.ly/3KFqHoh