Conversion practices ban passes in Parliament

By Irra Lee and Anna Whyte of 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission

Conversion practices will be banned in New Zealand, after politicians voted in support of the bill’s third reading.

The Beehive, New Zealand's Parliament.
The Beehive, New Zealand’s Parliament. (Source: 1News)

It will come into force in about six months. All MPs voted in favour except eight votes opposed from the National Party.

Labour’s Ayesha Verrall said conversion practices told people they should be ashamed of who they were.

“I want to acknowledge the survivors of conversion therapy who submitted on the bill and their courage for doing so,” Verrall said.

She also reflected on something she said had been on her mind since she came out as a teenager and in her conversations with others in the Rainbow community.

National’s Paul Goldsmith said he personally supported the bill, but said during the process there was “some concern about the way this particular bill has been drafted and serious issues around the extent of what is captured by a ‘conversion practice’”.

“What we’re dealing in Parliament is not what our intentions are that we want to just stop a particular practice, it’s what the piece of legislation in front of us actually achieves.”

Goldsmith said he raised issues about whether the bill would end up inhibiting the discussions people could have, and noted Kris Faafoi had given his assurance those areas wouldn’t be covered.

The Greens’ Elizabeth Kerekere said her party would support the bill, despite it not addressing all the issues Rainbow communities had raised.

She said laws weren’t the “be all and end all”, and Tuesday’s bill was a “stake in the ground”.

Kerekere added the bill could be amended and “one day, we probably will”.

The bill would still need to be signed off by the Governor-General for its Royal Assent into law. It would come into force six-months-later.

Sexual orientation and gender conversion therapy was highlighted in 2018 after TVNZ’s Sunday investigated therapy offering to “cure” people. It revealed that conversion therapy in New Zealand was readily available.

Labour MP Marja Lubeck then introduced a Member’s bill in 2018 , after a 20,000-strong petition led by the Green and Labour youth wings was delivered to Parliament. It was never pulled from the ballot.

Earlier this year, the Green Party, fed up with the time it was taking the Government to ban conversion therapy, launched a petition for priority to be placed on outlawing the practice.

It received more than 157,000 signatures. National also gave its support to banning conversion therapy . Faafoi said at the time the Government was aiming to have it banned by February 2022.

It also would allow for civil redress.

The first reading of the proposed law to ban conversion therapy passed in August.

If passed into law, it could see someone imprisoned for up to three years in jail for performing conversion therapy on someone under 18 and up to five years where it has caused serious harm, irrespective of age. The Attorney-General needed to give consent for those prosecutions.

Labour promised in 2020 to ban conversion practices.

The bill passed its second reading last week, with all but seven MPs in support. Michael Woodhouse, Louise Upston, Shane Reti, Simon O’Connor, Melissa Lee, Simeon Brown and Simon Bridges voted against the bill.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson opened the debate of the third reading on Tuesday – a position usually held by the person who introduced the bill – instead of Justice Minister Kris Faafoi.

He described it as “historic legislation”, saying it would right the wrongs caused by conversion practices and send love to Rainbow communities.

“I grew up in a religious church-going household in the era of homosexual law reform,” he said, recalling coming out to accepting parents.

“But not everybody is or was so lucky. The other group that needs to be acknowledged from the outset are those from our Rainbow communities who did not make it.”

Robertson remembered a former work colleague named James – the “sweetest and most gentle man who you would ever meet”.

He was brought up in the same church as Robertson and when he told his parents, he was met with anger and rejection.

“It was intolerable for him,” Robertson said. “He took his own life at the age of 23. To James and to many like him from all parts of the Rainbow communities, and also to those who have been directly affected by conversion practices or attempts at them, we want to say this legislation is for you.”

“We cannot bring you back. We cannot undo all of the hurt. But, we can make sure that for the generations to come, we provide the support and love that you did not get and that we protect you from the harm of those who seek to try to stop you from being who you are. We will never forget you.”

Robertson said he recognised some advocates thought the bill didn’t go far enough in terms of penalties and the ease of prosecution, but he believed the bill had the balance right.

He also said the bill wouldn’t undermine the freedom of speech and religion.

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