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Government goes quiet on its promise to ban conversion therapy

19 September 2023

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THREATENED delays in the implementation of a promised ban on conversion therapy have been met with dismay by Christian supporters of the ban, while opponents have called on the Government to drop the proposals entirely.

On Thursday of last week, the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, was asked by the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse to provide a timeline for when the legislation would be introduced.

In July, a spokesperson for the Government’s Equality Hub reportedly said that draft legislation would be prepared by November; but Ms Mordaunt last week declined to confirm this timeline.

On the same day, the Telegraph website reported that a “person familiar with Government thinking” had described the ban as “dead in the water”, owing to disagreements about how it should be worded.

The UK editor of ITV News, Paul Brand, posted on social media that he had spoken to sources “in all camps”, who had told him that the “legislative ban is dead”, and that it was “just a matter of time” before the Government conceded as much.

In response, the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, wrote: “If true, shocking breach of promise and appalling news for people whose lives will be blighted by it.”

In July, several C of E bishops joined MPs from across the political spectrum in signing a letter urging the Government to bring forward the legislation (News, 18 July). “It is time to end these unethical, harmful and ineffective practices that have been condemned by religious leaders and by medical, psychiatric, psychological and healthcare professionals worldwide,” they wrote.

In response to the reports that the ban was unlikely to go ahead, the campaigner Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the General Synod, posted on social media that she was “so angry about this — such a dereliction of duty by government to protect vulnerable from harm. How do they expect us to ever trust them again?”

The next day, however, a statement was posted on the website of the Greater Love Declaration, which called on the Government to abandon the proposed ban, describing it as “unnecessary and unworkable”.

The Greater Love Declaration was launched last October. The website says that 1564 “ministers and pastoral workers” of a range of Christian denominations have signed its commitment to “classic, orthodox Christian teaching on marriage, sex and identity”.

The group’s statement said: “What campaigners want . . . is a law which forbids both belief in reality (i.e. the existence of sex as an immutable part of being human) and belief in core Christian doctrine (i.e. that humans are sinful and should repent of, rather than blindly follow, their apparently natural desires). This clearly cannot be done in a liberal democracy, especially one which is founded on a Christian constitution as is the case in the UK.”

The statement was unsigned, and there was no indication it had been approved in advance by the signatories of the main declaration. The “writing group” listed on the website includes two Church of England priests, the Revd Dr Ian Paul and the Revd Clare Hendry, and a lay General Synod member, Dr Julie Maxwell.

On Monday, the Revd Dr Charlie Bell, a psychiatrist and a self-supporting minister in the diocese of Southwark, criticised the Greater Love Declaration’s statement.

“There is no such thing as ‘conversion therapy’: what there are are impossible, and damaging, attempts to enforce religious ideology on to someone’s psychological, make-up,” he said. “Every single reputable psychiatric and psychological organisation has said so, and yet still some Christians — acting from a place of make-believe and ideological fervour — refuse to face the basic facts.”

He described the Greater Love Declaration as “Christians who have lost sight of reality and who are determined to eliminate LGBTQI identities at all costs”.

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