Members of the House of Lords has described a bill to criminalise so-called conversion therapy as a dangerous attack on free speech, the family, and religion.
The bill, tabled by Baroness Burt of Solihull, would ban any practice or conversations, including between parents and children, that "demonstrates an assumption" that one gender identity or sexual orientation is preferable to another.
The bill is currently at a second reading stage and not yet close to becoming law.
The bill defines conversion therapy as 'any practice aimed at a person or group of people which demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable and which has the predetermined purpose of attempting to
(a) change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or
(b) suppress a person’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity.'
Lord Caddick praised the motivations behind the Bill to help "people accept who they are" and "prevent lasting harm that begins in childhood", when they are "forced into accepting someone they are not."
Baroness Butler Sloss welcomed the bill, insisting that it would not criminalise "open and unpressurised" discussion or therapy with a person who is unsure or concerned about their sexual orientation.
"If there is an assumption that it is wrong or a sin to be LGBT+ and the discussion has the intention of coercing that person into a different point of view, that has gone too far and would, in my view, come within the offense in this bill."
However, Baroness Arlene Foster critiqued that the bill would offer no protection to anyone wishing to follow traditional biblical teaching on marriage and gender, and that the bill would be a violation of free speech and the freedom of religion under the Human Rights Act.
"I came home from Holy Communion on Sunday past when those present heard the invitation from my minister, that ye that truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours and intend to need a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking henceforth in his holy ways. And I thought to myself, is that going to be allowed under this new conversion therapy bill?"
A similar prohibition bill has passed in the Australian state of Victoria, where Foster said Christians are being given state guidance on how to pray, while parents of gender-confused children are holding secret meetings, living in fear of prosecution for trying to get help for their children.
In Victoria, according to reports, "state enforcement agencies" are convicting parents for not supporting their child's request for puberty blockers or affirming a transgender identity, creating, in Foster's words, a whole new category of opinions that must not be uttered for the risk of criminal conviction."
"It [the standard the bill deems illegal] could be met by anyone who believes that being male or female is tied to biology and who rejects the idea of gender identity, and I note that this belief, gender-critical belief, is protected by equality and human rights laws. It's clear that an offense looking at people's assumptions is getting into the realm of examining whether their thoughts and attitudes are acceptable. It's very dangerous territory."