New problem in Morrison government’s religious discrimination bill


attorney general christian porter religious discrimination bill gay conversion therapy
Photos: Pixabay/ABC News

The government’s controversial religious discrimination bill may “relegitimise” harmful “conversion therapy” practices, LGBTIQ advocates warn.

Attorney-General Christian Porter unveiled the draft religion bill in late August. After a consultation period, the government is expected to introduce it to parliament in October.

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But a group representing survivors of harmful “conversion” practices say they’re concerned about some sections of the government’s bill.

The Brave Network fears section 41.1.c of the draft bill, protecting “statements of belief”, may override future state laws banning the promotion of discredited “conversion” practices.

Two other parts of the bill, sections 15 and 16, could also make it harder to deregister a counsellor who engages in conversion practices based on their “religious belief or activity”, the group said.

“Conversion therapy” refers to debunked practices to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, using psychological or spiritual means.

Brave Network spokesperson Nathan Despott said: “Various parts of the religious discrimination bill will give heart to those who support conversion practices, with their cumulative effect being to re-legitimise this damaging movement.

“This is because ‘conversion ideology’, the pseudoscience behind conversion practices, is frequently being claimed by religious groups as theologically central to their faith.

“We dispute this claim.”

Mr Despott said “opening up a wider space” for conversion practices is “deeply irresponsible”.

“Many people have been traumatised by the experience of conversion practices,” he said.

“It has been directly linked to depression, anxiety and suicide by LGBTIQ+ people who have suffered under its false premise and delusional claims.”

‘Conversion therapy is not religious freedom’

Attorney-General Christian Porter unveiled the draft religious discrimination bill in late August and has begun consultations with religious and LGBTIQ groups.

The legislation has a stated aim of “eliminating, so far as is possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life.”

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However, Equality Australia has warned the bill has ramifications for LGBTIQ people in several areas.

On Sunday night, Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program revealed the conversion practices are still continuing in Australian churches.

Earlier this year, the Victorian government said it intends to make it illegal to offer “conversion therapies”.

But just.equal spokesperson Brian Greig said even if states introduce bans, he’s concerned the federal religion bill may give religious organisations a green light to advocate for the practices.

“Conversion practices were invented by US churches that believe being LGBTIQ+ people are broken,” he said.

He said psychology bodies worldwide have denounced the practices as “misleading, harmful and damaging.”

“Allowing religious organisations to continue to claim that LGBTIQ+ people are ‘broken’ and can be ‘fixed’ is not freedom.

“It is cruelty, especially when inflicted on children. Freedom of religion must not be twisted to permit freedom to torture and torment.”

There are two weeks left to make a submission responding to the draft religious discrimination legislation. You can do so online here until October 2.

Read more: Victim exposes Australian ‘gay conversion therapy’ on hidden camera

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