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What is ‘conversion therapy’ and how does a ‘ban’ relate to Christian teaching and pastoral care?

The Victorian and ACT Governments have declared that they will soon ban ‘conversion therapy’. Given hormonal treatment and psychological aversion therapy were part of harmful and discredited conversion practices carried out by both secular and religious people many years ago, you might ask what exactly exists today in Victoria and the ACT that they want to ban?

As it turns out, and in the words of Mark Sneddon from ICS, “teaching, prayer and pastoral counselling of many religions based on their belief in faithful monogamous sexual relations within marriage and celibacy outside heterosexual marriage”. Which, unfortunately, are being put on the same par as the terrible practices of the past and will affect schools in what they teach and how they look after students.

The Victorian Government is relying on a Health Complaints Commission Report, that in turn, draws from a Human Rights Law Centre/LaTrobe University report.

The Health Complaints Commission Report defines conversion practices in a way that is far too broad:

  1. any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,
  2. including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.

Furthermore, the Human Rights Law Centre/LaTrobe University report sees the following as “conversion practices”:

  • Church and other religious teachings that homosexuality is sinful;
  • Pressure to stop acting on a person’s same-sex attraction (e.g. live celibate);
  • Attributing ‘same-sex attraction’ to childhood, developmental or family issues.
  • Prayer and counselling based on the above.
  • The ‘welcoming but not affirming’ pastoral posture of some religious communities to welcome LGB people into fellowship but not affirm their sexual practices as consistent with the teachings of the religion.

Sneddon sensitively asserts that “teaching, prayer and pastoral counselling may be objectionable to some people and in some cases may have been insensitive and caused pain, but they are not “conversion practices” in any ordinary sense of that term. They are common worldwide religious teaching and practices based on religious worldviews about human sexuality and human society.”

“Being exposed to different worldviews which conflict with one’s own can be a painful experience. But the correct response is a greater sensitivity to others and an acceptance that each of us has a right to disagree with or ignore worldviews we don’t like, but not a right to use the law to ban other people from expressing and living by worldviews we don’t like.”

The Human Rights Law Centre/LaTrobe University report is not a solid basis for lawmaking as ICS explains, “While it interviewed 15 people who identified as victims of conversion practices, it did not seek to interview any person who identified as benefiting from conversion practices or any person living celibate with same-sex attraction in accordance with the religious worldviews or any provider of conversion practices. The report does not attempt any even-handed analysis of conversion practices.

In essence the government proposal and those reports try to build from a few discredited practices and seek to outlaw entire religious worldviews on human sexuality.” [Emphasis added]

When the matter of banning ‘conversion therapy’ was raised in New Zealand, a select committee concluded that it required more information before the Government legislated on the issue. “In particular”, the report declared, “thought must be given to how to define conversion therapy, who the ban would apply to, and how to ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained”.

Our joint submission to the Victorian Government is attached here: Joint_SubmissionCTVic

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