The UK government has set out policy proposals for how it plans to ban conversion therapy.

Since the government first pledged a ban in 2018, the Evangelical Alliance has consistently pressed for detail about what this would involve and clarity as to the definition, to ensure that human rights are kept central and religious freedom is protected. 

More recently, the Evangelical Alliance has pressed the government to fulfil its twin aims to ban coercive and abusive practices and to ensure spiritual support is protected. While the policy aims of the current consultation are broadly in line with this approach, there are many questions on the details which will require further clarity as the policy is developed into proposed new laws. 

The consultation proposals outline measures to specifically target violent physical acts. which are already unlawful. when done with the intent to try and change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These measures should be uncontroversial, and the Evangelical Alliance supports the government’s approach.


Second, the proposed policy suggests a new offence where talking conversion therapies’ are delivered to people either under 18 or who are over 18 but have not given consent. Adults who are considered vulnerable in the view of the law would be considered not to have the capacity to consent to such activity. 

It is in this second category of offences that there remains considerable uncertainty as to what will be banned and what will be protected. The government claims that it does not want to infringe religious freedom but has not set out how they will achieve this. 

The consultation also sets out a range of additional measures covering broadcasting, advertising, overseas activities and disqualification for charity leadership.

Definition of conversion therapy

One of the most difficult aspects of engaging with this policy debate is the lack of agreed definition as to what is conversion therapy. If we are talking about abusive and forced practices to try and change someone’s sexuality or gender identity, there should be little disagreement that these should be banned – in fact, the consultation confirms these are illegal. 

However, campaigners have cast the definition far wider to encompass activities which might encourage people to modify behaviour or even the articulation of Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality, and prayer. The current consultation fails to resolve this problem. In places the definition is tight around practices that try and change someone’s sexuality or gender identity, but then additional clauses are added which confuse what is within scope. For example, the consultation states: They may liken feelings of same-sex attraction or being transgender to a defect, deficiency or addiction and may conduct conversion therapy in an attempt to remedy or control this.” This could potentially be used to categorise as a practitioner of conversion therapy someone advising a person with same-sex attraction to abstain from sexual activity with someone of the same sex, with which we would strongly disagree. 

At the same time, in the following paragraph, the consultation seeks to prioritise individual choice and personal freedom. Earlier in the consultation it also states: The policy approach set out below will not impact everyday religious practice. An adult who wants to be supported to be celibate will be free to do so.”

This confusion continues to run through the policy proposal and will require far greater clarity when laws are drafted. For example, it talks of the ban not covering private prayer, but this is not defined and could mean an individual praying alone.

We will press the government for greater clarity and definition so that people do not end up being criminalised for talking in the wrong way’ about sexual orientation or gender. We do not believe that everyday Christian practice should be captured within the definition of conversion therapy.

Consent and coercion

The government propose using the definitions of consent in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to ensure that any activity classed as conversion therapy is engaged with voluntarily, is informed and the person receiving it has the capacity to give consent. 

In addition, the government intends to copy some of the language used in domestic abuse legislation around coercion and control to define practices that would be caught by the new law. However, in adapting the language to a new context, and removing some of the tests to ensure activity meets the necessary threshold, the government has created uncertainty as to what could be captured. We will be pressing for clarity on this point and ensuring the legislation works effectively and without intended consequences.

Respond to the consultation

The Evangelical Alliance will be providing resources in the coming weeks to equip you to respond to the consultation, which closes on Friday, 10 December. We consider it vital that the government hears from a wide range of our member churches, organisations and individuals on the issues the consultation raises.