The government has published their policy proposals for how they intend to ban conversion therapy. The proposals are open to consultation until Friday, 10 December, and we encourage responses from church leaders, youth workers, parents and anyone interested in this policy area. 

Ending abuse, protecting spiritual support

The Evangelical Alliance has consistently pressed the government to bring forward policies which fulfil the twin aims they have set out for several years: to ban forced and abusive practices and to safeguard spiritual support for those who want it. The current proposals broadly seek to honour these commitments, and we are thankful that the government has listened to the concerns we have raised. 

The plans will create new offences tackling both physical acts of conversion therapy and talking conversion therapy. The key problem is the lack of detail as to what is classed as conversion therapy and what would be covered by new offences of talking conversion therapy. Without greater clarity, common ministry practices could be caught by these proposals.

There needs to be, for instance, more rigorous safeguards to ensure people can access the support they choose, and that Christians and other people of faith can live out their beliefs without fear of being classed as engaging in conversion therapy. 

How you can help

We are asking you to add your voice by responding to this consultation. We have provided some guidance below to help you respond to some of the key questions. Please note that you have to answer most of the questions, but if you have nothing particular to add, several include the option to select prefer not to say’. 

You can read the full consultation document here, and our summary of the key proposals here.

A guide to responding to the government's policy proposals to ban conversion therapy

Before you answer the substantive questions on the policy proposals the consultation requires you to answer a number of questions about your personal circumstances or if you are answering on behalf of an organization. Some of these questions are optional, while others have an option to select prefer not to say’ if you do not wish to answer them. 

The substantive questions on the government’s proposals begin with a general question: Do you agree or disagree that the Government should intervene to end conversion therapy in principle?”

You can reply on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree or you can say that you prefer not to say. There is also a free text box to explain your view. 

Feel free to answer this question as you wish. The government is looking for an overall view about ending conversion therapy rather than asking about the specific measures proposed. Considering the complexities involved, it may be most appropriate to select either neither agree nor disagree’ or prefer not to say’.

If you want to provide any further comments you may wish to say you:

  • Support the government’s overall aim of banning abusive and coercive practices while maintaining the freedom for people to receive the support that they choose. 
  • Encourage the government to pursue a sensible approach which leads to workable policy. 
  • Note the importance of the government resisting pressure to widen the policy approach in a manner that would unduly restrict Christians in living out their beliefs.
  • Human rights are not advanced at the expense of religious freedom.

Physical acts of conversion therapy

  • We would encourage you to support the measures designed to target physical acts of conversion therapy. 
  • Make clear that abusive and violent acts are inconsistent with compassion and care, and that you support tightening the law to ensure such practices are appropriately addressed. 
  • Point out that there is considerable evidence that violent and abusive practices lead to long-term trauma.

Targeting 'talking conversion therapies'

The consultation asks three multiple choice questions and then an opportunity to expand on the final question in an open text box. Following conversations with the Government Equalities Office they have assured us that they will accept a wider range of comments relating to tackling talking conversion therapies’ in the open text box. 

The proposals to tackle talking conversion therapy with the government’s consultation are complicated and therefore it may be best to not offer an overall opinion on the proposals and therefore either select neither agree nor disagree’ or prefer not to say’. 

If you have a view on the proposed penalties, feel free to answer this question, alternatively you can select prefer not to say’. 

It may be most appropriate to answer don’t know’ to this question. Answering no’ might suggest the government has got this entirely right, while answering yes’ might be used to evidence support for a much wider ranging ban. 

Call on the government to improve talking conversion therapy proposals

You can use the open text box following Question 4 no matter how you answered it and we encourage you to do so. Using your own words, you may wish to make some of the following points:

Support the policy intent

  • The government’s intent to protect religious practices while ending coercive practices is one which should be broadly supported. 
  • It is vital that the legislation actually delivers on this balanced approach. 
  • The government has not been clear how religious freedom will be protected.
  • Encourage the government to pursue legislation which ends abusive practices while delivering substantive protection for people to continue to receive spiritual support.

Definition

  • The consultation lacks a clear legal definition of conversion therapy and the new concept it introduces of talking conversion therapy’.
  • The consultation talks about change, but also efforts to remedy or control’ feelings. These are very different and lead to confusion.
  • It is essential that the proposals when finalised are clear on what is covered and what is not. 

Remedy or control

  • While language of remedy or control’ is not how Christians would talk about resisting temptation, there is a significant risk that a wider definition would capture the work of churches, ministers, youth leaders and others in providing pastoral care and support for people who are same-sex attracted but are committed to living a biblically orthodox lifestyle and as such abstain from sexual activity. Support to help people in this way would probably be caught under the definition of talking conversion therapy’. You may wish to tell the government that this would be an unreasonable interference with reasonable religious practices. 

Examples

  • We encourage you to provide examples to the government of normal church activities that would be captured by this policy. For example, we have suggested that while a church talk on issues of sexuality would probably not be covered, prayer ministry and pastoral support that would often follow would be categorised as a talking conversion therapy’. 
  • The government’s proposals suggest that casual conversations’ and parents raising their children in line with the values of their faith will not be impacted; however, this leaves a large realm of activity in church contexts open to being classified under this policy. Any ongoing support is likely to be impacted.

Consent and coercion

  • It is encouraging that the government has recognised that adults should be free to consent to non-coercive verbal activities. However, the details about how that consent will be assured is vague and confusing and risks creating a significant chilling effect for churches, ministers and any Christian involved in pastoral care and discipleship. 
  • The government proposes that activity must be proved to be done with a conversion therapy’ intent, however the wider definition suggested above means this could apply far more widely than it originally appears. 
  • The proposals to ensure consent are confused, which means there is risk that while someone may consent to arrangements that are deemed to be affected by this policy, they could later suggest they had been coerced and therefore any consent would be rendered irrelevant. 
  • We do not support any coercive activity, but the test for when coercion has occurred needs to be rigorous to protect Christians (and many others) from spurious allegations. The current proposals weaken the threshold to mean a single occasion that the person in question deems to have caused a substantial adverse effect’ on them might trigger a prosecution. 
  • Call on the government to ensure the threshold to prove coercion is more rigorous than currently proposed, and that it provides protection against spurious allegations. 

Under 18s

  • The consultation proposes an absolute ban on talking conversion therapies to people under 18. If the definition were sufficiently tight, this might be acceptable; however, with the far wider definition being used, it threatens a wide range of youth ministry activity. 
  • Tell the government that this proposal will stop churches from teaching their beliefs to young people and prevent young people from receiving vital spiritual support. 
  • The impact of this policy is that churches that hold to an orthodox view of sexuality would be less able to support same-sex attracted young people. Point out to the government that this means a church could provide support to encourage heterosexual young people to refrain from sexual activity but could not do so for homosexual young people. This would be discriminatory.
  • Likewise, the approach would prevent churches from supporting young people who are questioning whether they are transgender.

Other policy proposals

A range of other policies have been proposed to supplement the core new offences for physical and talking conversion therapies. If you have any comment to make on these proposals feel free to do so, but you can also answer prefer not to say’ to skip them.

Equalities impacts appraisal

  • We would encourage you to answer yes’ to this question and set out any ways in which the proposed policies might impact your ability to live out your faith freely and without undue restriction. 
  • Religion or belief is one of the characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010 and it is important for the government to consider the impact policies might have on people of faith. For example, the government has only indicated that it will protect personal prayer. Ask for clearer protection for prayer for others. 
  • Call on the government to include in any legislation a specific clause that protects discussion of sexuality and gender identity which might have disproportionate relevance to people of faith. This is similar to existing free speech protections in hate crime law, and it was also put in place when laws introducing same-sex marriage were passed.
Watch: conversation on the conversion therapy consultation

Watch: conversation on the conversion therapy consultation

Our UK director Peter Lynas joins our head of public policy Alicia Edmund for a conversation on the government's consultation on banning conversion therapy. Watch now