This past summer, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May banned conversion therapy in Great Britain, calling it “disgusting” and saying it has “no place in modern Britain.” While some prominent lay Catholics have approved of the measure, the nation’s “Catholic bishops declined to comment on the subject, in contrast to the Church of England, which has led the way in campaigning to abolish such therapies,” according to London’s Tablet magazine.
The ban arises as part of May’s LGBT Action Plan, a £4.5m initiative which was instituted as a result of a government survey of the country’s LGBT population. According to the survey of 108,000 people in the UK, 2% of respondents had underwent gay conversion therapy, while 5% were presented it as a valid option. The plan makes anything associated with conversion therapy illegal:offering it, providing it, or conducting it.
Conversion therapy is a means by which people try to “undo” one’s non-heterosexual orientation with therapy. Also called “reparative therapy,” its practitioners believes that such therapy can reverse one’s sexual orientation. The controversial practice has proven to be psychologically damaging, and is not recommended by medical professionals.
Martin Pendergast, a member of LGBT+ Catholic Westminster, a Roman Catholic diocesan outreach ministry, spoke approvingly of the ban:
“This is long overdue from the Government. Many LGBT groups have been urging this action on so-called reparative therapies for some years. The Government has finally caught up with professional counselling organisations.”
Pendergast also pointed out that nation’s Catholic bishops’ guidelines for LGBT pastoral care reject conversion therapy.
Additionally, Matthew Doyle, a Catholic gay man who is a former senior press officer to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, told The Tablet:
“I hope the government will ensure that this insidious practice really can be ended and it won’t listen to those siren voices that argue that such practices should be allowable under so-called conscience or religious freedom exemptions.”
May said she was “struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction,” as reported to CNN.
“No one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love,” she said. “This LGBT action plan will set out concrete steps to deliver real and lasting change across society, from health and education to tackling discrimination and addressing the burning injustices that LGBT people face.”
Elsewhere in the world, similar bans on conversion therapy are being enacted. The European island nation of Malta also banned conversion therapy in 2016. Conversion therapy in the United States, however, is illegal in the District of Columbia and 15 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State.. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “a growing number of municipalities have enacted similar protections, including cities and counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, New York, Arizona, and Wisconsin.”
Conversion therapy is often associated with religious organizations who try to “pray away the gay.” This kind of religious therapy is the subject of the recently released film Boy Erased, which has been favorably reviewed by several Catholic publications.
Ending conversion therapy in Britain is a good way to promote LGBT equality And protecting people from almost certain harm from such interventions. Churches and religious institutions should do the same. Instead of trying to “fix” a person through conversion therapy, churches should work on respecting a person’s inherent dignity and accept people the way God created them and loves them.
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, December 14 , 2018