Media Release 15 March 2021
The Human Rights Commission in response to an Official Information Act request from Family First NZ has admitted that there has only been one informal complaint and no formal complaints in the past 10 years in relation to ‘conversion therapy’. A ‘formal complaint’ is where the other party is notified of a complaint against them.
The Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner, in response to a similar inquiry, was also unable to provide any specific numbers. An informal search of 1400 decisions dating back to 1997 suggests that there have been no complaints around ‘conversion therapy’.
Interestingly, some of the politicians who have previously supported the proposed ban have admitted they’re also not aware of any cases of involuntary ‘conversion therapy’ in their communities.
If the term ‘conversion therapy’ means practices which are coercive, abusive or involuntary, or includes things like electric shock therapy or ‘anti-gay boot camps’, then we can all agree such things are inhumane and must be condemned. These types of ‘therapy’ should not be part of any community, let alone a faith-based one. Therapy or counselling should never be forced on anyone. Sadly, in the past, many state institutions sanctioned inhumane treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), being stripped naked and being locked in a small room, massive doses of medication, lobotomies and screaming patients chained to chairs. Fortunately, these are not part of current practice and certainly not part of any religious organisation.
However, under a proposed ban on ‘conversion therapy’, people would be prevented from getting help to live the lifestyle they choose – if that lifestyle is heterosexual or based on their biological sex. While gender and sexuality are supposedly ‘fluid’, activists want the law to stipulate that it can only go in the direction they approve.
Banning practices which bring about positive change for people in pain, changes they genuinely desire for themselves, would be the real crime.
Official advice to the Minister and Associate Minister of Health regarding ‘conversion therapy’ has revealed that a ban is not recommended. Official Information Act requests show that in 2018, Associate Minister of Health and Green MP Julie Anne Genter was advised by the Ministry of Health:
“Due to the current protections that are in place, and the need to balance the rights of people with preventing harm, it is not recommended that a legislative ban of conversion therapy would be the most effective way to reduce the harm it causes…”
The ministerial advice also notes that people have the freedom to willingly engage in the practice, that protections already exist in the health sector, and that a ban “could be inconsistent” with the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990 “which provides for rights of assembly, free speech and rights to freedom of religion”.
This advice is consistent with the legal opinion recently released from Grant Illingworth QC based on a Labour MP’s private members bill which was in the ballot last year. The opinion says that if a person wanted to align their sexuality with the teachings and values of their particular faith – be it Muslim or Christian, Jewish or Sikh – and sought help to do so from a minister, imam or other faith leader, a ban would make it virtually impossible to access the support they wanted. Furthermore, if they were able to find someone prepared to provide counselling of that kind, they could well cause that person to become implicated in a criminal offence.
In 2019, the Justice Select Committee, consisting of MPs from Labour and National, considered two petitions wanting to ban ‘conversion therapy’. In their report, they rightly declined to support such a ban, stating:
“The Bill of Rights Act affirms, protects, and promotes human rights and fundamental freedoms in New Zealand. It allows all New Zealanders to live free from discrimination, including in relation to their sexual orientation. New Zealanders also have the right to freedom of religion. This protects those who offer and seek out conversion therapy because of their religious views.”
A nationwide poll has found that there is widespread opposition to the legal effects of a ‘conversion therapy’ ban. 81% of respondents said they believed a person should be able to seek counselling support to determine their own direction. 81% said that it should not be a crime for a parent to affirm to their daughter that she’s a girl or to their son that he’s a boy. And just 16% think it should be a crime for a faith leader to teach a Biblical or Koran view of sexuality, and of gender being determined at birth.