Extreme UK conversion therapy bill facing opposition

On Friday, February 9th, the House of Lords began debate on a contentious private members’ bill regarding ‘conversion therapy,’ proposed by Baroness Burt of Solihull (the Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Bill).

While the bill ostensibly aims to protect individuals from harmful practices, its sweeping definitions and potential consequences raise serious concerns about personal freedoms and parental rights.

The bill currently faces fierce opposition in the House of Lords, with a total of 29 peers speaking against the bill, and 15 in favour, when debate occurred on 9 February 2024.

A point of contention is the bill’s broad definition of ‘conversion therapy,’ which encompasses any practice that “demonstrates an assumption” that any sexual orientation or gender identity is preferable to another. This broad language risks criminalising ordinary behaviours and conversations, infringing upon fundamental rights to free speech and parents’ rights. 

One of the most alarming aspects of the bill is its potential impact on private conversations. Under its provisions, there is widespread concern that individuals could face criminalisation for simply offering advice or expressing traditional beliefs regarding sexual ethics or gender identity. This overreach may extend to parental rights, where even decisions about dress codes or addressing children by their birth gender could be deemed illegal.

In addition, the bill's lack of age limits or defences against accusations of 'conversion therapy' are a further cause for concern. Without clear parameters, individuals could find themselves unjustly targeted for innocuous actions or beliefs.

One Member, Lord Forsyth, described the bill as “the most badly drafted, dangerous piece of legislation” he had seen in nearly 40 years in parliament”, saying:

“Of course it’s an attack on free speech if parents can’t feel they give guidance to their children. It is an absolute duty of parents to give advice to their children.”

Christian Concern has been a vocal opponent of the bill, citing its infringement on religious freedoms and human rights. It provided the parliament with a legal briefing on the proposed bill.

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern said:

“No parliamentarian who cares about parental rights or free speech or human rights should support this bill.

“It is absurd that parliamentarians are even considering a bill that would criminalise telling boys and girls to dress differently, and criminalise ordinary people for private consensual conversations.

“Giving someone the simple advice to remain celibate until married could be ruled as an attempt to suppress their sexual identity and thus criminalised.

“This bill would criminalise expression of Christian sexual ethics. It would be a serious breach of human rights”.

The private members’ bill is potentially as dangerous as the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 which has been in force in the state since 2022.

Similar laws banning conversion therapy practices have been proposed for introduction in New South Wales and Tasmania.

HRLA remains vigilant and concerned about the implications of these laws for people of faith.