Victoria’s conversion therapy bill under fire

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Archbishop Peter Comensoli hopes for meaningful involvement from the Government in the consultation they will wish to have with religious communities. Photo: CNS photo/Robert Duncan
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli and other faith leaders are asking for an urgent stay of the Victorian Government’s conversion therapy bill and proper consultation.  Photo: CNS/Robert Duncan

Faith leaders, doctors warn against ‘vague’ law change

Faith leaders ramped up their opposition to the Victorian Government’s so-called conversion therapy bill with hundreds signing letters to Premier Daniel Andrews asking for it to be paused or withdrawn.

Victoria’s Catholic bishops with the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria Mohamed Mohideen wrote an open letter to Premier Andrews seeking an urgent “pause” on the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 which could be brought before the Legislative Council this week.

The bill risks criminalising conversations between children and parents, interfering with sound professional advice, and silencing ministers of religion from assisting some individuals who freely seek pastoral care.

“Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t just ban out-dated and insidious practices of coercion and harm, which we firmly reject,” the letter states.

Critics of Victoria’s ‘conversion therapy’ bill say it overreaches by imposing constraints on the individual freedom of choice. PHOTO: Freepik

“It includes ill-conceived concepts of faith and conversation, vague definitions, and scientifically and medically flawed approaches. It places arbitrary limitations on parents, families and people of faith.”

If a “simple, clearer” bill had been tabled, with adequate consultation, then they would have given their “full support to a focused and practical way to protect people from harm”, they wrote.

Maronite Catholic Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, Christina Warren from the Melbourne Catholic Lawyers’ Association, Anna Krohn and the executive of The Catholic Women’s League Wagga and Victoria, and Dr Eamonn Mathieson from the Australian Catholic Medical Association also signed a letter to the Premier “on behalf of the Interfaith Communities of Victoria” to “voice our strong and unequivocal opposition” to the current draft legislation.

“Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t just ban out-dated and insidious practices of coercion and harm, which we firmly reject” -Letter from Islamic Council of Victoria and Catholic dioceses and eparchies of Victoria

The bill tabled in parliament on 25 November would criminalise any practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, the bill is so broad in its definitions that it could crush any Christian expression of human sexuality, capturing homilists, scripture teachers and parents with penalties reaching $200,000 or up to 10 years in jail for individuals.

“We in no way support coercive and harmful practices that force someone to attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity” read the letter.

“[But] we are united in support of the human rights of any Victorian to have the freedom of choice to seek assistance to adhere to their religious convictions on matters of gender and sexuality.

“The bill legislates ideological constructs around sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill, therefore, overreaches by imposing constraints on the individual freedom of choice, parental rights and responsibilities, and the ability for religious leaders to offer support, prayer, and resources to same sex-attracted and gender dysphoric individuals seeking faith-based assistance to adhere to religiously sanctioned constructs of gender and sexuality.”

The Victorian branches of the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have also criticised the proposed legislation for being too broad and the sanctions too harsh.

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