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Conversion therapy ban passes NSW parliament after marathon overnight debate

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The New South Wales government has been accused of ramming its conversion practices ban through parliament in a marathon debate before the law was passed early on 22 March.

The upper house approved the legislation without amendments after 6am, little over a week after it was introduced in the lower house.

The new laws outlaw therapies or violence aimed at “converting” LGBT persons to heterosexuality or traditional gender norms.

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It also makes provisions for the expression and practice of religious belief about sexuality and human relationships, in response to faith leaders’ concerns that the legislation would erode religious freedom in the state.

But religious freedom advocates say gaps still remain which may allow the new law to encroach too far into faith and family life.

Criticisms of the bill also included that it was unnecessary given existing laws, may potentially promote harmful treatment of gender-confused children, and prevent some people, including people of faith, from accessing the support they need or providing the support requested of them.

The bill passed swiftly through the lower house and an attempt to refer the bill to a parliamentary inquiry to allow for public consultation and scrutiny was overturned by a close vote in the upper house on 19 March.

Debate on the bill began around 11pm on 21 March, a decision that Liberal MLC Damien Tudehope said was an “abuse of democracy” and the “height of arrogance.”

“This bill should not be starting at this hour of night,” he said.

“It grieves me there are people who should be given an opportunity to speak who are not given that opportunity in circumstances in which they are fresh and had the opportunity to prepare properly.

“It is also an abuse of all the people who may want to watch and participate in this debate.

“I’ve had more emails about this particular bill than any other bill that has come before this place.”

Tudehope said the bill was being rushed through by the government instead of waiting until at least the next available sitting day as it “wants this piece of legislation out of the road.”

“The government does not want continued public exposure of this legislation, they do not want people to have an input into the provisions of this legislation,” he said.

Independent MLC Mark Latham also opposed the late-night sitting, calling it a “shameful tactic” and the “politics of exhaustion.”

A number of proposed amendments were defeated during the overnight debate.

The changes were supported by faith leaders including the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Australian National Imams Council and the Australian Christian Churches.

They had called for clearer language in the bill, including the terms used in providing the religious exemptions.

They also wanted an expansion of the protection for parents discussing sexual matters with their children, to protections for parents and other carers setting rules and boundaries for children in their care, among other suggestions.

Also voted down was an amendment to remove gender identity from the bill to help prevent gender-confused children from unnecessary treatment including puberty-blockers, a practice recently banned in the UK.

Attempts by Greens members to remove some exemptions for religious beliefs and practices were also defeated.

No time to lose to amend ‘sincere’ but flawed conversion therapy bill

“It could have been a lot better, but it also could have been a lot worse,” Freedom for Faith executive officer Mike Southon told The Catholic Weekly.

“We thank the government for a genuine negotiation on this bill, and the opposition and minor parties who presented amendments which would have made the bill better.”

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, who had championed the ban, welcomed the new laws with an early morning tweet.

“NSW wakes up to a safer place for LGBTQIA+ people with the passage of the Conversion Practices Ban bill,” he said.

Both NSW Premier Chris Minns and former Premier Dominic Perrottet had committed to banning conversion practices prior to the last state election.

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP warned that similar bans elsewhere sometimes effectively outlawed the lived expression of belief, after the draft legislation was revealed on 13 March.

“Everyone can support laws that genuinely aim to prohibit coercive actions that violate the dignity of the human person,” he said.

“Unfortunately, bans on so-called conversion practices can sometimes have the effect—intended or unintended—of outlawing religious teaching, prayer and practice or preventing people from seeking and obtaining the help they desire to live in accordance with their beliefs.”

Writing in The Catholic Weekly last week, Monica Doumit said the bill was better than its Victorian counterpart, but goes further in restricting freedom of faith and parental rights than  similar laws in Queensland and the ACT.

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