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Govt launches consultation on conversion therapy as it plans to ban 'coercive' practises

by Kelly Valencia

The Government has announced a set of measures to ban 'coercive' conversion therapy under new legislation coming out next year. 

Conversion therapy covers a variety of practises which seek to suppress or change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The proposal seeks to protect LGBT+ people from harmful practise by ensuring physical conversion therapy acts are sentenced appropriately and introducing a new offence for so-called talking conversion therapies. 

A public consultation has also been launched and will run during the next six weeks, closing on 10th December. 

The Government Equalities Office said the ban will not "seek to restrain medical professionals" and believes "individuals should be free to seek out professional help and guidance". 

It stresses that all under 18s will be protected by law and the "consent" exemption won't apply to them. 

"Future laws will therefore place a particularly strong emphasis on preventing children undergoing any practices considered to be conversion therapies," the Government said. 

However, some LGBT Christian campaigners say the proposals don't go far enough and will allow abuse to continue. 

Gerard Swan, the chair of Quest, an LGBT support group for Roman Catholics, told Premier he doesn't think the ability to "consent" occurs at a particular age. 

"We know, for example, that children have a range of ages at which they can consent or not. And from a very early age, they should be allowed to say no, but we also know that perhaps when someone's ill, their capacity to consent can be questioned. And I think the principles that underpin those two examples need also to apply here. I think we've got a safeguarding issue," Swan continued. 

Jayne Ozanne, leading campaigner to ban conversion therapy, said she was "extremely concerned that the Government is allowing 'informed consent for adults - it's a major loophole & will leave thousands at risk. Sadly, the desires of perpetrators have been prioritised over the needs of survivors in relation to religious practices."

For some evangelical church leaders, there were concerns that the 'ordinary work of churches', such as prayer and pastoral care would be included in the ban. 

Although the Government has acknowledged people's freedom to ask for pastoral guidance regarding their sexuality, these groups argue that the proposals lack detail.
Peter Lynas, director of the Evangelical Alliance said: "The Government has recognised the importance of human rights, including religious freedom and personal choice, but it is our view that it has not done enough to expressly protect them. The Government needs to be clear that protecting human rights is not a legal loophole. 

"We need really tight and clear definitions around what that is around informed consent and around coercion. Otherwise, almost anyone could find themselves on the wrong side of the law simply for talking about sexual orientation or gender identity."

Simon Calvert, a spokesperson for the 'Let Us Pray' campaign told Premier: "Rather than coming forward with very focused proposals, in the past, governments have often come forward with very unfocused proposals, which strip away people's fundamental human rights, [targeting] people who are innocent people who are not the perpetrators of the crime. And that's what we have to avoid here and so the Government needs to be very clear, very precise, in how it legislates." 

The ban will also criminalise any individuals who profit from it and anyone convicted of a conversion therapy offence will be disqualified from holding a senior role in a charity. 

The proposed new criminal offence would be punishable with up to five years in prison. 

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