Campaigners demand no loophole for religious groups in conversion therapy ban

Ex-government equality adviser calls for ‘legislation that protects all LGBT+ people, without exception’

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Monday 10 May 2021 22:37
Boris Johnson says gay conversion therapy is 'abhorrent' and has 'no place in a civilised society'

Campaigners have urged the government to bring forward a full ban on conversion therapy in the Queen’s Speech over fears of a loophole for religious groups.

Opponents say the practise is a form of abuse and warn it that can lead to long-term physical and mental harm.

Almost three years after Theresa May first committed to ending conversion therapy in Britain, a ban will be announced when the government sets out its legislative programme tomorrow. But it is thought the government will consult on the exact scope of a ban, including on how to protect religious freedoms.

Nancy Kelley, chief executive officer at Stonewall, said she welcomed a ban on what she said were “inhumane and degrading practices”.

But she said ministers “must publish a full and comprehensive bill that bans conversion practices in all forms, for all people and in all settings, including religious and faith-based settings, and it must also provide statutory support for victims and survivors”.

Jayne Ozanne, who quit as a government equality adviser last month over this issue, said: “The government simply needs to protect the lives of all LGBT+ people by doing what the UN has advised and banning all forms of conversion therapy, including religious practices. They have consulted long enough, now it is time to act and bring forward legislation that protects all LGBT+ people, without exception.”

Ms Ozanne told The Independent: “The government has been heavily lobbied by the religious right who want to be able to continue practicing conversion therapy with impunity, with sympathetic MPs and advisers giving them more air time than the voices of survivors.  It is hard to understand why there is yet more delay given there is now good international precedents to follow, and clear guidelines from the UN about the need to include religious practices and protect all LGBT+ people from this degrading abuse.”

In a letter last month to the Evangelical Alliance, which represents 3,500 churches across Britain, Boris Johnson said he wanted to reassure the religious community that the government takes “freedoms of speech and freedoms of religion very seriously”.

“As the government made clear in 2018, when we first made our commitment to end conversion therapy, we will continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer), in churches and other religious settings, in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he added.

At the time Stonewall condemned what it said was a “loophole” that would leave vulnerable people at risk of further harm.

The government’s Equalities Office declined to comment.

Ministers are also facing growing anger that there will be no bill to reform the faltering adult social care sector in the Queen’s Speech.

A letter organised by the Local Government Association, and signed by Conservative councillors, warned that would be a “bitter blow” to the millions of people who rely on and work in “these vital services”.

Mr Johnson also briefly triggered controversy by suggesting that plans to demand identification at polling stations would apply to first-time voters, who are more likely to vote Labour than Conservative. But senior government sources later made clear the measures would apply to all voters.

The prime minister also said new legislation designed to create a new post-16 adult education, training and loans system will be “rocket fuel” for his levelling-up agenda. The Bill will set out the legislation behind the ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ Mr Johnson announced last October.

Meanwhile, former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve has also called for a public interest defence to be included in plans to update the Official Secrets Acts in the Espionage Bill.  He said security had to be balanced with accountability and it was time for a statutory public interest defence so legislation “cannot be used to suppress the exposure… of improper or criminal acts and abuse of power by government.”

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