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Looks like New Zealand is unlikely to ban conversion therapy anytime soon

Josh Milton October 20, 2019
Festivities during Pride Weekend in Auckland, where gay journalist Aziz Al-Sa'afin was beaten by unidentified attackers.

People march up Queen Street on February 09, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. The #ourmarch event is part of the annual Pride Festival promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes in Auckland. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Moves to ban conversion therapy – a harmful and widely debunked practise –  in New Zealand have been delayed further this weekend because Government officials are concerned about freedom of religious expression.

Also called reparative therapy, medical organisations across the world have widely rejected the treatment as traumatising and psychologically scarring, suffocating one’s ability to express who they are, especially for minors.

Around 20,000 people in the country signed two petitions calling for the practise to be outlawed.

But lawmakers admitted that while therapy is harmful, it did not recommend an immediate ban, the Justice Select Committee wrote in a report on October 18.

A conversion therapy must be balanced with religious rights, says Committee members. 

The body, consisting of a number of parliament members who consider pitched petitions, acknowledged in a report that the New Zealand House of Representatives should “take note” but warned there is “inherent difficulty” in stonewalling the practice.

However, the reported continued: “We believe more work needs to be done before any decision is taken to ban it,” it said in its report.

“In particular, thought must be given to how to define conversion therapy, who the ban would apply to, and how to ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained.”

The committee expressed the importance that the therapy be distinguished from counselling, noting that legislation designed to ban it might prove sticky and difficult to write up as a result.

People with questions around their sexuality should be able to seek advise from religious community leaders, so “a ban on conversion therapy should not prevent anyone from seeking or providing such advice.”

Campaigners decry the Committee’s consideration as a ‘cop out’.

Activists slammed the Committee’s considerations, calling it a “cop out”.

Max Tweede of the Conversion Therapy Action Group, told Stuff: “We do not permit someone’s religious freedom to extend to stoning homosexuals to death. We cannot allow archaic religious practices to be prioritised over the rights and general wellbeing of our rainbow community.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden at Pride (Getty)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden at Pride 2018 (Getty)

“The freedom of rainbow communities to live dignified lives with equal rights under the law has not yet been realised, and we have not achieved freedom from violence, harm and from abhorrent conversion therapies.”

Conversion therapy is still common across the world.

The practise has been around more than a century and has a tool belt of techniques. Most commonly, talking therapy and counselling.

However, some physicians who practise the therapy are known to use shock treatments and induce associative nausea in patients, according to a 2018 study by the Williams Institute of the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Despite such denouncement and discrediting, the ‘therapy’ has remained common in patches of the US.

Though, the impact of the practise is immeasurable, an estimated 698,000 LGBTI+ adults in the US have received conversion therapy, according to research.

Around half of them underwent the practise as teens.

More: conversion therapy, New Zealand

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