Criminalizing Reparative Therapy

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by William Mahoney, Ph.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 9, 2020   

UK government's ambiguous response

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LONDON (ChurchMilitant.com) - A petition to outlaw reparative therapy (derided as "conversion therapy" by opponents) in the United Kingdom (U.K.) has garnered more than 100,000 signatures, meaning Parliament must consider the topic for debate.  

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National Health Service

Following in the footsteps of Germany, which recently banned the therapy for minors, Parliament is poised to debate making the practice illegal in the United Kingdom.

Reparative therapy typically refers to any therapeutic or spiritual attempt to assist individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria to overcome such attraction or dissatisfaction with one's biological gender. 

"Despite all major counseling and psychotherapy bodies in the U.K., including the NHS [National Health Service], condemning LGBT conversion therapy," reads the petition, "it is still legal and LGBT individuals in the U.K. are still exposed to this psychological and emotional abuse to this day. The very thought of this sickens me, and I would like to see it stopped one day."

Signers of the petition want the government to criminalize running conversion therapy, "forcing people to attend said conversion therapies," sending people abroad for therapy and "protect individuals from conversion therapy."

Parliament's Unclear Response 

The Government Equalities Office responded to the petition, saying, reparative therapy "is a very complex issue. There are a wide range of practices which may fall within its scope and we want to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the situation in the U.K. to inform an effective approach."

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"Before any decision is made on proposals for ending conversion therapy we must understand the problem, the range of options available and the impact they would have," continues the response. 

"[W]e are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking spiritual support from their faith leader or others in the exploration of their sexual orientation," the response goes on. "The U.K. government is committed to ensuring all citizens feel safe and are protected from harm. This is why we will work to deepen our understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy."

Some Catholics find the government's response confusing. 

They speak of outlawing 'conversion therapy' as a forgone conclusion.
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Layla Moran on the right and her 'partner' on the left

"It sounds like the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth," David, who preferred not to give his last name, told Church Militant. "On the one hand, they speak of leaving people dealing with same-sex attraction free to receive spiritual help from faith leaders, while on the other hand, they speak of outlawing 'conversion therapy' as a forgone conclusion."

"Are they saying they will discuss whether the practice should be outlawed or simply how they plan to outlaw it?" he added.  

Led by liberal Democrat Layla Moran, a dozen members of Parliament have made it clear they wish to outlaw the practice by tabling an early day motion, a method used to gain support for an issue.  

Echoing the words of the petition, the early day motion "calls on Her Majesty's government to make running conversion therapy in the U.K. a criminal offense; further calls on Her Majesty's government to make forcing people to attend conversion therapy a criminal offense; [and] urges Her Majesty's government to make the sending of individuals abroad to try to convert them a criminal offense."

Fruition of Ongoing Push

Pro-LGBT groups like Stonewall and the British Psychological Society have been pushing for the government to criminalize reparative therapy for years.

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Nicola Gale

In 2017, president of the British Psychological Society Nicola Gale said, "I am pleased to sign this memorandum of understanding [a document calling for the end conversion therapy] on behalf of the British Psychological Society."

"Our Society exists to make things better for people, and champions equality, diversity and inclusion in everything we do, she added. "It is core to public protection that the public are (sic) made aware of the risk of 'conversion therapies' and that these therapies are unethical and unsupported by psychological evidence. Our Society is committed to ending this practice."

In a 2018 statement, Stonewall said reparative therapy "treats being lesbian, gay, bi or trans as a mental illness. LGBT people are not ill and any so-called 'conversion' therapy is unethical and unacceptable."

"As a proud member and supporter of the Coalition, Stonewall are committed to supporting the government in their pledge to end the practice," the statement continued. "We'll be working closely with our partners to make sure that all options, including legislation, are properly explored, so that no LGBT person seeking support is told that they can be 'cured,' but are accepted for who they are." 

Reparative therapy is currently illegal in three European countries: Malta, Albania and Germany.

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