In a near-unanimous vote, New Zealand lawmakers passed a measure legalizing conversion therapy ban. Conversion therapy is a hazardous and discredited treatment that seeks to modify or repress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
The law, which was submitted last summer, was approved by a vote of 112 to 8 at a congressional session on Tuesday. According to the bill’s language, it seeks to acknowledge and avoid the harm caused by conversion methods, as well as to foster respectful and open talks about gender and sexuality.
“Conversion practices are based on the false idea that people are wrong or broken because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Such practices and ideas have no place in a modern, inclusive country like Aotearoa,” said the centre-left Labour Party, using the Māori name for New Zealand.
The Labour Party makes outlawing the practice a campaign promise in 2020.
What the conversion therapy ban law allows and does not allow
The new rule legalizes a conversion therapy ban, making the performance of such therapy on anybody under the age of 18 or who lacks decision-making ability a civil violation punishable by up to three years in prison. Anyone, regardless of age, who engages in a behaviour that “causes serious harm to the individual” faces up to five years in prison.
It also establishes a route for persons to file complaints with New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Review Tribunal concerning conversion procedures. The service is being established, according to the Labour Party, because “prosecution won’t always be the best way to deal with conversion practices.”
The new conversion-practices complaints service, according to the Human Rights Commission of New Zealand, will be available starting in August and will be survivor-informed, accessible, and culturally safe. Other sections of the bill, such as the criminal crimes, go into effect right away.
Labour legislators also made a point of pointing out what the bill does not achieve. It defines conversion practice and safeguards people’s ability to express thoughts or beliefs that are not meant to modify or repress a person’s identity.
“This new legislation isn’t about criminalizing open and respectful conversations about sexuality and gender,” they wrote. “It’s been carefully designed to make sure that general expressions of religious beliefs or principles — as well as health practitioners or other people providing legitimate care and advice — won’t be penalized.”
Torture has been used to describe conversion methods
According to the Human Rights Campaign, while major medical and mental health organizations have long opposed conversion techniques, they nevertheless persist in many communities, disproportionately targeting adolescents and contributing to sadness, anxiety, drug addiction, homelessness, and suicide in some cases.
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and the Independent Forensic Expert Group, as well as an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity from the United Nations, have all expressed concern about the situation by releasing separate remarks in 2020 that characterized the practice as torture and called for a universal prohibition.
More than a dozen nations have some type of national conversion therapy ban, with Canada joining the list in December. Conversion therapy for children is illegal in twenty states in the United States.
The conversion therapy ban bill in New Zealand got extraordinary public involvement
In a statement, New Zealand Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said the government received approximately 107,000 public submissions on the bill, the highest ever for a piece of legislation in the country.
“The unprecedented number of submissions shows the depth of public feeling about this issue and strong support for the Government’s moves to protect against these harmful practices,” Faafoi said, adding that MPs took public feedback into account while drafting the final bill.
The bill’s passing has been applauded by lawmakers and LGBTQ groups.
Shaneel Lal, who pioneered the campaign for a conversion therapy ban in New Zealand, described the decision as “a win for humanity, not just the queer community.”
“Queer rights are human rights. Queer people do not need to be tolerated or accepted, we need to be liberated. A conversion therapy ban is starting to free queer people in New Zealand,” Lal stated on social media, adding that more has to be done to safeguard queer people worldwide.
Lal further stated that the eight MPs who voted against the ban have been “banished from Pride” and would not be allowed to attend the annual celebration, which runs for the entire month.
Legislators shared their own stories and expressed their thanks
Many members of Parliament who backed the ban shared personal tales and messages of thanks on social media throughout the debate and thereafter.
Labour MP Kiri Allan revealed on social media that she had gone through conversion therapy under her religion as a teenager and had “desperately tried to ‘pray the gay’ away” in order to win acceptance.
“It took a long time to shake that shame and trauma,” Allan added. “Tonight our Parliament will ensure this practice is banned in our country for good. For our next generation of babies, I am so incredibly relieved.”
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson congratulated the “hundreds of activists” who had battled for years to get to this point, as well as the MPs who developed and shepherded the legislation, during the bill reading.
According to a transcript, he also honored two additional particular groups of people: parents who support their children for who they are, and members of the LGBTQ community who did not make it.
Robertson gave instances from his own life, saying that his parents were “full of welcome” after he came out to his Catholic family, but that a work colleague called James – “the sweetest, most gentle man” — died due to suicide at the age of 23 after having a totally different experience.
The conversion therapy ban, he said, was “a promissory note” from the House of Representatives to future generations of rainbow communities.
“It’s our commitment that we will love, support and affirm you for being who you are, that we will not give licence to the peddlers of hate, bigotry, and dogma to impose the ill-informed and dangerous beliefs on to you,” Robertson said. “We cannot promise to solve all the problems and challenges that you will face in your lives, but we can — and, indeed, in my opinion, we must — give you hope for a life of love, fulfillment, and dignity.”