The Scottish Government has launched a public consultation on “ending conversion practices” in Scotland. We are very concerned about the potential impact of this proposed legislation, and we want to help our members to respond.

We will respond to the consultation on behalf of our whole membership, but want you to add your voice to ours. The consultation is available at:

Ending conversion practices in Scotland: consultation — Scottish Government consultations — Citizen Space

The deadline is 2 April 2024.

We acknowledge the Scottish Government’s intention behind the proposed legislation – to protect vulnerable people from harm – is good and right. We also wish this to be the case in Scotland and agree that no one should be coerced into attempting to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the problem is that the proposed legislation has the potential to be harmful for all individuals involved and affect religious freedom in Scotland.

The Scottish Government are proposing to introduce the following as new laws in Scotland:

Criminal law proposals:

  1. A new criminal offense of engaging in conversion practices.
  2. A new criminal offense of taking a person out of Scotland for conversion practices.
  3. A new statutory aggravation to existing laws – eg a charge of assault with a statutory aggravation involving conversion practices.

Civil law proposals:

  1. A new civil protection order to protect an individual at risk.
  2. A new civil protection order to protect the wider community
    1. If either of these are breached, this becomes a criminal offense.

The key question is what does the Scottish Government mean by conversion practices”? – as this will define how the law would work in practice. This is what they say in the consultation document (our emphasis in bold):

paragraph 18 (pg10)

There is no international, universal definition of the term conversion practices”, which is sometimes referred to as conversion therapy”, sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts”, reparative therapy” or gay cure therapy”.

paragraph 43 (pg15)

Our proposals are informed by the definitions used by different bodies, and in other countries as set out in Part 3. Taking these into account, we consider that core to the definition of conversion practice is a purpose or intention to change or suppress another individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. For any act or course of behaviour to fall within the scope of this legislation, it will have to meet the intent requirement.

paragraph 50 (pg17) – definition of suppress”

Some examples of the types of acts that could be motivated by an intention to suppress another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are:

• Prescribing medication to suppress a person’s sex drive.

• Therapy or counselling that requires a person not to act on their same-sex attraction, including through celibacy.

• Controlling a person’s appearance (eg clothes, make-up, hairstyle).

• Restricting where a person goes and who they see.

At the heart of the Evangelical Alliance’s engagement with proposals to end conversion practices is the need to consistently demonstrate that everyday activities of a church supporting people to live in line with their faith convictions should not be categorised as a conversion practice. This means churches should continue to be free to teach fidelity within a marriage between a man and a woman, and abstinence outside of this, and provide discipleship, support and prayer to those seeking to live this way.

Helping you respond to the consultation

We have produced this guide to help you respond to the consultation. We would encourage everyone, in any context, to respond to the consultation. This law has the potential to affect parents, church leaders, anyone involved in pastoral care, youth groups, schools, support groups and the freedom of religion and belief in Scotland.

It is important to make clear to the Scottish Government how problematic this legislation could be. If you are a church or charity leader, we would encourage you to submit a church or organisational response, and then encourage the rest of your leaders and individual members of the church/​organisation to submit their own response. It can’t be overstated enough how vital it is to make our voice heard, we want to ensure the Scottish Government is aware of the breadth and depth of concerns that surround these proposals. 

You can respond to the entire consultation if you wish, but we have selected what we believe to be the most important questions to respond to and provided an explanation and suggestions for how you could go about responding.

If you have any questions or queries about this consultation, do not hesitate to get in touch with us at scotland@​eauk.​org

The overall proposals

The proposals create broad new criminal and civil offences and lack clarity as to how they would impact the everyday activities of churches and Christians. Underlying many of the problems with these proposals is the implicit characterisation of Christian teaching on sex and sexuality as inherently harmful. Therefore, there is significant risk that these measures would lead to the criminalisation of such activity, including prayer, discipleship, even in cases where support is sought and desired by an individual. 


The proposals include the banning of activity that suppresses’ another’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is very difficult to define but would seem to include support for people who are same-sex attracted but wish to refrain from sexual activity. At the heart of this problem is an assumption that someone is being restricted from living their full life if they do not engage in sexual activity – even where this is freely chosen. The proposals conflate attraction, orientation and activity, and potentially categorise any support for someone refraining from sexual activity as suppression’.

Questions relating to the specifics of the proposals

Questions 5 and 6 relate to the package of measures which includes both criminal and civil measures. Such an approach creates a complicated framework where it is hard to see where actions cross the threshold of criminality. This is not a good basis for effective law. 

Provision of services

The proposals suggest that both the coercive activity which tries to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and the provision of services that seek to do so, would be criminalised. This is very problematic because of the lack of clarity in definitions and thresholds in the law. This means that support groups for people seeking to refrain from sexual activity could be captured, as too could a structured discipleship course or even regular pastoral meetings. 

A coercive course of behaviour

The Evangelical Alliance has consistently affirmed that forced or abusive behaviour should not be permitted. However, action to address this needs to ensure that that is what is in scope and it does not restrict people from accessing the support they choose, or unintentionally criminalise Christian ministries. 

We wholeheartedly oppose coercive behaviour but are concerned that discipleship and support within a community with clear convictions on sexual practice could be construed as directive and therefore fall foul of the law. 

Too low a threshold of harm

Questions 11 and 12 address the requirement that conduct has caused harm. We fully oppose harmful behaviour and at the same time have concerns that this threshold is dangerously low and could restrict Christian activities and unintentionally criminalise every Christian practice. We do not wish to see people in fear, alarm or distress, however someone’s response to a situation should not be sufficient to lead to its criminalisation.


The consultation suggests that consenting to activity considered to be a conversion practice would not be a defence for those providing it. We consider that this mischaracterises a wide range of practices which could be caught within the proposed law. If support for Christians refraining from sexual activity, and teaching, prayer, discipleship and pastoral care to this end, are potentially classified as such, then these are reasonable activities which someone should be able to consent to their engagement with. It is inappropriate to compare such practices to torture or degrading treatment where consent is not a defence. 

Civil Protection Orders

The Scottish Government are proposing supplementing the criminal ban on conversion practices with civil measures which they say are designed to protect people who may be at risk of becoming victims. The burden of proof for these measures would be lower than in criminal cases, requiring only a balance of probabilities, rather than proof beyond reasonable doubt. 

Combined with the low thresholds used for designating activity as harmful, and therefore potentially a conversion practice, the use of such civil protection orders places churches and Christian ministries under a very real threat. There is no need for evidence that conversion practices have taken place for an order to be granted. If activities of a church or ministry could be construed as a provision of a service, then continuing with this after a protection order is in place could lead to criminal prosecution.