UK plans to criminalise ‘archaic’ conversion therapy
The UK government on Friday set out proposals to make it a criminal offence to force anyone to undergo “conversion therapy” aimed at changing their sexual orientation.
Such therapy has been widely discredited and outlawed by a number of countries including Brazil and Switzerland as well as parts of Australia, Canada and the United States.
The proposed crime would be punishable by up to five years in prison, said the government’s equalities office.
“There should be no place for the abhorrent practice of coercive conversion therapy in our society,” said Liz Truss, who serves as equalities minister as well as foreign minister.
“Today’s announcement sets out how we will ban an archaic practice that has no place in modern life.”
The proposed legislation would apply to those conducting such therapy on under-18s in any circumstances and to those providing it to adults who have not freely consented.
The equalities office added that consent requirements would be “robust and stringent”.
Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for interventions to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, based on a belief this is possible.
They are often clandestine and apart from psychology can involve electric shocks, beatings, drugs or even exorcism.
Mental health professionals and state agents may carry out the therapy as well as faith groups or traditional healers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has regularly promised to ban the therapy, calling it “absolutely abhorrent”.
– ‘Can’t consent to abuse’ –
Campaigners praised the move, but called for the removal of the proviso allowing such therapy to go ahead if an adult freely consents.
“The proposals… are a huge step forward to consign this practice to the history books,” tweeted Stonewall UK LGBT rights group.
But it stressed “a practice that is abusive cannot be consented to”.
People may face pressure from their family or faith group, which creates an “inevitable imbalance of power and pressure to acquiesce”, warned the Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, a campaign group including MPs, academics and lawyers.
Labour MP Angela Eagle, who is openly gay, in a tweet criticised the proposed legislation as “more like a licensing scheme for conversion therapy than a ban”.
The law would cover attempts to convert people from being attracted to members of their own sex, or from not being transgender to being transgender and vice versa.
Those found guilty would have any profits gained from the practice confiscated.
Religious teachings will not constitute conversion therapy, said the government.
The government is now holding a six-week public consultation, allowing people to submit views online.
This will close on December 10, and the office aims to introduce the legislation early next year.