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NZ takes first step to end conversion therapy

RIGHTS

New Zealand’s parliament has moved to ban practices intended to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, known as conversion therapy.


The bill passed overwhelmingly 112-8 on February 15, the ABC reports.


“This is a great day for New Zealand’s rainbow communities,” Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said. “Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand.”


The government had argued conversion therapy didn’t work, was widely discredited and caused harm. It says it received nearly 107,000 public submissions on the bill, the highest number of public submissions ever received for any legislation.


Under the new law, it will be an offence to perform conversion practices on people under 18, or on someone with impaired decision-making capacity. Such offences would be subject to a maximum three years in prison. It will also be an offence to perform conversion practices on anyone — irrespective of age — where the practices have caused serious harm, and offenders can be subject to up to five years’ imprisonment.


Conversion therapy aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using, for example, talk therapy, hypnosis, electric shocks and fasting. In extreme cases, exorcism and “corrective rape” for lesbians have been documented.


The legislation also protects the right to express opinions, beliefs, religious beliefs or principles that are not intended to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.


However, Shaneel Lal, an organiser with End Conversion Therapy NZ, argues the bill falls short and wants a stronger, more comprehensive bill, including giving people over 18 the same protection as those under 18. More than 18,000 people signed a petition calling for major amendments to the legislation.


Laws against conversion therapy have been gaining momentum around the world. In Australia, Victoria banned conversion therapy last year. Canada did the same. Several US states, including California, Colorado, New York, Washington and Utah, prohibit the practice to some degree.


ABOVE Shaneel Lal, centre, at the Auckland Pride March in 2021

PHOTO Sam Sutherland

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