The Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill is an omnibus bill that seeks to ban “conversion therapy” and is currently before the Justice select committee.
In the bill’s explanatory note, the term is explained as including “a broad range of practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” The premise of the legislation is that “no sexual orientation or gender identity is broken and in need of fixing.”
Under this bill in its current form, it will be a criminal offence to offer “perform conversion practices” on children and teenagers under the age of 18 or any person who “lacks, wholly or partly, the capacity to understand the nature, and to foresee the consequences, of decisions in respect of matters relating to their health or welfare.” A person who is deemed to have done this could face imprisonment for up to three years. In situations where it is deemed that the practice has caused “serious harm”, and the person doesn’t fit into the above criteria, the penalty is up to 5 years imprisonment.
There are many areas of concern in the proposed legislation. The following submission produced by FLI staff member Simon Archer examines some of the specific issues using Catholic social teaching as a foundation for our objections.
Submissions for this Bill closed on September 8, 2021. The report is due on February 5, 2022.
Submission from Family Life International New Zealand
on the Proposed Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation
We oppose this Bill.
Underscoring our concerns to the proposed legislation is our awareness that the family: “… is, in fact, the best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life. The family has an affective dignity which is suited to making acceptable without trauma the most delicate realities and to integrating them harmoniously in a balanced and rich personality.” (source = Congregation for Catholic Education, “Educational Guidance in Human Love”, November 1, 1983) The effect of the proposed legislation will be to over-ride and interfere with this essential role, and potentially criminalise those conscientious and loving parents who accept and act upon their moral obligations to guide and nurture the emerging understanding of their children as to their sexual awareness, understanding, and development.
In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981), Pope St John Paul II decried the “… imparting sex information dissociated with moral principles.” The proposed legislation would have the effect of enshrining this separation of information about sexuality from the irreducible moral principles that govern all human life in the natural order.
We draw your attention to two key principles:
- Conscientious parents know, understand and love each of their children in their uniqueness. No one has the right to over-ride their capacity for discernment of the proper timing and approach to take with each of their children concerning their physical (including sexual) and spiritual growth. Accordingly the actions of parents in carrying out these responsibilities as the primary educators and formators of their children, must not be at risk of being deemed criminal.
- There is always a moral dimension to any discussion or teaching about sexuality and sexual behaviour. Christians (and other faiths too such as Judaism) understand that God is Love, and has a particular plan and purpose for the legitimate expression of sexual love (within the context of Christian marriage, or consecrated virginity, or celibacy). This calls for parents to insist on the value of chastity (properly understood) as the foundation of authentic love and thus responsible sexual behaviour. Such matters are therefore inseparable from religion and thus any limitations placed on parents exercising their duties in this regard would be an unwarranted encroachment on their religious freedom.
We have particular concerns arising from the probable and potential ‘reach’ the proposed legislation would have.
- Since “conversion practice” is defined in terms of the individual’s “… sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression”, some statement or declaration of this by the individual would be required. Even questioning or seeking to explore and discuss this with that individual has the potential to be deemed “conversion practice” – should that individual decide it is so.
This is made even more apparent by the outline of what is excluded from the definition: “… the expression only of a religious principle or belief … not intended to change or suppress …” (what the individual deems to be their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression).
If a parent (or caregiver, or counsellor, or religious/pastoral advisor) were to seek to explore, discuss, or question in any way the individual’s view (of their sexual orientation etc.), it seems highly likely that this could be said to be seeking to “change or suppress” that view.
That in turn could have the effect of criminalising even the loving expression of thoughts and concerns of parents (or of the other parties mentioned above).
- The active push taking place in schools with programmes designed to raise questions in the minds of even young children over their sexuality means that questions about ‘sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression’ will almost certainly arise at some point.
Such programmes within schools, cut across the fundamental role and rights of parents as outlined previously. The fact that such programmes will inevitably lead to questioning in the home of parents or caregivers (or with a pastoral or spiritual advisor such as a Priest, Imam, Rabbi, Pastor, or Youth Minister etc.) strongly indicates the potential for the criminalisation of such concerned persons who are carrying out their legitimate roles. Even a parent simply affirming the biological sex of their child could be deemed in breach!
- Many faith groups and churches have clear teachings on the morality or otherwise of sexual behaviour (what is deemed moral and right, and what is conversely deemed unacceptable). It is readily apparent that these teachings will frequently be at odds with what is being widely promoted in New Zealand (including in our schools) in the name of ‘gender fluidity’ and ‘gender expression’ (among other things).
The legitimate role of spiritual teachers and advisors in such faith groups and churches is to teach not only the moral concepts and beliefs underpinning their teaching, but also what constitutes good and proper behaviour (and conversely wrong and sinful behaviour). Such teaching is supported by ‘formation’ which means the guiding of the beliefs and behaviour of those being formed in a given faith.
It therefore seems inevitable that such formation and guidance will be seen by some to be “conversion practice”.
It is ordinary and proper practice, within the realm of religious freedom, for faith communities and their leaders to not merely offer a belief or teaching, but also to seek to influence and form the character of the would-be and actual disciples of that faith. Such ordinary religious activity would therefore have the very real possibility of being deemed to be criminal if it were addressing issues of sexual orientation, identity etc.
That would be a gross incursion into religious freedom!
- The term ‘serious harm’ is problematic. In particular, the inclusion of an undefined term “emotional harm”, and the lack of an objective assessment of what constitutes ‘serious harm’ in the light of that, creates a potential legal quagmire.
- Consent not a defence – it seems bizarre and fundamentally inconsistent to exclude the possibility of consent (to “the conversion practice”) as a defence. The absence of consent has been at the heart of many valid concerns about potential or actual abuses against a person or persons.
Even more concerning with this element of the proposed legislation is the fact that this virtually closes the door on a person, with gender dysphoria or other unwanted (by them) sexual identity or inclinations doubts and concerns, seeking independent counselling, advice or help.
Our concerns with the proposed legislation are based on the readily apparent conflicts between its provisions and the legitimate and proper roles of parents as the primary teachers and guides of their children’s moral, physical and social development.
We have particular concerns about the far-reaching implications of the definitions (and application of these) in terms of criminalising the legitimate and proper actions of parents, caregivers, educators, counsellors, religious and spiritual guides, among others.
We have serious concerns about the likelihood of criminalisation of ordinary and proper religious practices and teachings, and therefore of completely unwarranted and egregious incursion into religious freedoms.
Finally, we have concerns too over the problem of excluding consent as a defence, and of the effect the legislation will have in excluding the possibility of individuals seeking assistance and help from independent experts.
In all, we oppose this proposed legislation.