New Zealand has banned the controversial practice of conversion therapy by a near-unanimous vote, with the bill receiving more public input than any other piece of legislation in the country's history.
The government received 107,000 public submissions on the bill, which was introduced last year following an election promise by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and passed on Tuesday night with 112 votes to eight.
“This is a great day for New Zealand's rainbow communities,” Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said.
Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice that aims to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression by way of talk therapy, hypnosis, electric shocks and in some cases exorcism.
Under the new law, those who use these practices on anyone under the age of 18 or anyone with impaired decision-making capacity will face a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment. Conversion practices that cause “serious harm” are also now banned, irrespective of age, and attract a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.
Shaneel Lal, founder of the Conversion Therapy Action Group, described the ban as “a gift to future generations of queer people,” saying that “young queer people have been sent the message that they are not broken and they do not need to be fixed.”
“The ban on conversion therapy is a win for humanity, not just the queer community,” Lal said in a message to VICE World News. “Queer rights are human rights. Queer people do not need to be tolerated or accepted, we need to be liberated. A ban on conversion therapy is [a] start to liberating queer people in New Zealand.”
Lal said that the eight MPs who voted against the bill, all members of the centre-right New Zealand National Party, “are not welcome” at Auckland Pride Festival.
“Pride is a celebration of queer people, not a celebration of people who want to erase queer people,” she said. “Pride was born out of the need for a safe and accepting place for queer people – people who want queer people to be tortured have no place at pride.”
Efforts to outlaw conversion therapy have been gaining global momentum in recent years. In 2020, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCTV) and Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) released an official statement labelling the pseudoscientific practice as torture.
“Variation in sexual orientation and gender identity is not a disease or disorder… [and] the provision of any intervention purporting to treat something that is not a disease or disorder is wholly unethical,” the release said.
That same year, the United Nations Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, described conversion therapy as “inherently discriminatory… cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and recommended that it be outlawed across the world.
At least 13 countries have implemented some form of national ban on the practice, including Canada, Argentina, Germany and Taiwan. Twenty U.S. states and three Australian states and territories have also outlawed it. The U.K. is considering a ban.
“Banning conversion therapy is a milestone for New Zealand, but that is not the destination,” said Lal. “We must stop the erasure of queer people in all parts of the world. Religious extremists may argue this is the end of the world but I can assure them that this is only the beginning.”
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