BREAKING: Northern Ireland votes to ban conversion therapy

Northern Irish MLAs voted 59-24 in favour of bringing forward legislation on a conversion therapy ban before the end of the current Assembly mandate.

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Stormont has passed a motion by 59-24, calling on the Minister for Communities to commit to bringing forward legislation to ban conversion therapy in all its forms before the end of the current Assembly mandate. It also rejected an amendment from the DUP to remove a section reading “it is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”.

“Conversion Therapy is a humiliating, cruel and damaging practice. It should shake us to the core that it occurs here in Northern Ireland,” Doug Beattie, the UUP MLA who tabled the motion, said during the opening of the debate. “As a person of faith, you should support banning conversion therapy. Not in spite of your faith, but because of your faith.”

The DUP argued that the motion could lead to an infringement on religious freedoms. The party say that they are in favour of banning conversion therapy but that preaching, prayer and pastoral support “must be protected” and that conversion therapy has not been properly defined in the motion.

In correspondence with the Anti Conversion Therapy Alliance yesterday, seen by GCN, DUP MLA Thomas Buchanan reiterated the DUP’s concerns about the motion and added that “through Adam’s disobedience in the garden of Eden, the Bible reminds us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that we all require spiritual conversion through faith in Christ.”

The main UUP motion was not supported by the DUP but was supported by Alliance, the Green Party, the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment proposed to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. These therapies are unethical, harmful and based on a belief that being gay or transgender is a mental illness, and can ‘be cured’.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK said yesterday: “’Praying the gay away’ is just as unacceptable as any other pseudoscientific approach which tells LGBT+ people they are ‘sick’ and ‘broken’ and can change their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Jim Allister, the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party who also voted against the motion, claimed during the debate that the LGBTQ+ community wanted “to suppress and criminalise religious activity”.

Jim Wells of the DUP  used the phrase “same-sex attraction” in his speech and falsely labelled a person’s sexuality as a lifestyle choice.

“If I were in a situation where I started to struggle with same-sex attraction — I am not, by the way — and I went to my pastor seeking spiritual guidance, the motion and the campaign would mean that the only thing that he could do is approve of my lifestyle choice, commend it and wish me all the best,” he added as an argument against the motion.

Mike Nesbitt of the UUP had strong words for why there is not much unionist co-ordination between the parties. “For those listening to the debate who seek unionist unity and wonder why we don’t have it, the answer is very simple. Read the motion, read the amendment- chalk and cheese. That’s why there isn’t, and there never can be unionist unity.”

Andrew Muir, an Alliance MLA and one of only two openly gay members of the Assembly said: “The idea that a ban on conversion therapy can be an attack on religious freedom is building a straw man. We were told the sky would fall in if we legislated for equal marriage – the reality is that people are a bit more equal and happier in love.”

Sinn Féin also rejected the DUP amendment. Sinéad Ennis said that “There is no cure required for being yourself. There is no need for a fix, you are not broken.”

The passing of the motion has been welcomed by Ban Conversion Therapy NI and the Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition.

The Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey confirmed that her department has begun to research and draft policy around the ban. “I want to make sure we do not leave any loopholes in any legislation, and I want make sure we engage with the community including anyone who has been affected by the practice.”

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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