The New Zealand parliament has been criticised for delaying a ban on dangerous “gay conversion therapy” over “religious freedom” fears.
“Conversion therapy” refers to harmful and debunked practices to change or suppress sexual orientation or gender identity, using psychological or spiritual means.
Over 20,000 people signed petitions calling on the New Zealand government to ban the practices.
In a report, the parliamentary committee members agreed “conversion therapy” is harmful. But MPs advised government to delay a ban due to concerns about religious freedom.
“We believe more work needs to be done before any decision is taken to ban it,” the committee said in its report.
“The desire to reduce harm by banning conversion therapy must be balanced against the desire to protect freedom of beliefs and religion for those offering the therapy.
“In particular, 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.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she hadn’t yet read the committee’s report. But she expressed concerns about “vulnerable youth” at risk of the practices.
“[Conversion therapy is] something that I know our LGBTI community rightly feels very strongly about,” she said.
Ardern expressed concern for the “very, very vulnerable, particularly young people in that situation”.
“I think the select committee is right to be concerned about those vulnerable young people,” she said.
“You’ll hear from my language that my concerns sit predominantly around those young people.”
But Ardern said the committee would be “keeping in mind that there will be those who perceive that it’s a part of their freedom of expression within their religion.”
New Zealand LGBTIQ advocates slam ‘cop out’ response
But New Zealand LGBTIQ advocates weren’t impressed. The Conversion Therapy Action Group slammed the Committee’s considerations as a “cop out”.
“Conversion therapy is based on the idea that someone’s sexual or gender identity is wrong and therefore can be changed,” spokesperson Max Tweedie said.
“We do not permit someone’s religious freedom to extend to stoning homosexuals to death.
“We cannot allow archaic religious practices to be prioritised over the rights and general wellbeing of our rainbow community.
“The freedom of rainbow communities to live dignified lives with equal rights under the law has not yet been realised.
“We have not achieved freedom from violence, harm and from abhorrent conversion therapies.”
An investigation by TVNZ’s Sunday program last year found conversion therapy practitioners were offering their services to New Zealand parents online.
University of Waikato research found health professionals had pressured one in six transgender or non-binary New Zealanders to “change” their gender identity.
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