More than 100,000 LGBT+ allies are backing New Zealand’s plan to ban conversion therapy, granting it more support than any other legislation in the country’s history.
A record-breaking 106,700 submissions were made to parliament’s justice select committee during the four-week submission window before it closed on Wednesday (15 September).
This is almost three times the number of submissions received on the End of Life Choice Bill, which previously held the record at almost 40,000 submissions. New Zealand’s Marriage Amendment Bill for same-sex marriage received 21,500 submissions.
“We’ve already made history with this movement and we’re not even done,” said Shaneel Lal, an activist and organiser in the movement to ban conversion practices.
“People really and truly care about this because in 2021 it is not appropriate to erase queer identities.”
In its current form, the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill would make it an offence to perform conversion practices on anyone under 18, or with impaired decision-making capacity, with a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment.
It also makes it an offence to perform conversion practices that cause “serious harm”, irrespective of age, with the crime carrying a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.
The submissions have not yet been processed so it is unclear how many were in favour of a ban, but polling by TVNZ in September 2020 found an overwhelming 72 per cent of New Zealanders favoured a ban while just 14 per cent opposed.
Unsurprisingly, much of the opposition comes from churches raising concerns about “religious freedom”.
Auckland Light of Grace Church said they opposed the bill because they believed it was not needed and the statement that no sexuality was broken and in need of fixing was questionable.
“The first objective of this bill is to affirm the dignity of every New Zealander, that includes the rainbow community. That is already covered by the Human Rights Act 1993,” they said, according to RNZ.
A trustee for the group said they had difficulty finding solid evidence to support the conclusion that conversion therapy was causing harm, and questioned some specific research as having been done “overseas”.
Fortunately this evidence has been accepted by every mainstream medical and mental health organisation for decades. Conversion therapy is often compared to torture and has been linked to higher risks of depression, suicide, and drug addiction.
Green MP and researcher Dr Elizabeth Kerekere pointed to research from New Zealand and questioned whether the group would change its position on the basis of this evidence. The church simply restated its belief that the research was insufficient.
However, many other church groups have also supported the law and even called for it to be strengthened.
Parliament’s justice select committee will now take two weeks to process the written submissions before hearing around 3,000 oral submissions. The committee is due to report back to the House in February.
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