The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) believes there is a danger that NSW parents could lose the legal right to discuss issues of gender identity and sexuality with their children under new conversion practices legislation being proposed by the Minns government. Attorney-General Michael Daley has confirmed it is pushing ahead with its own new laws, rather than backing independent MP Alex Greenwich’s bill later this month. The Labor government’s plan is not expected to be as stringent as Mr. Greenwich’s proposal which is based on Victoria’s conversion laws which are considered to be the most restrictive in the country.
The ACL maintains the purpose of the government’s bill still remains to introduce ‘conversion’ bans related to sexual orientation and gender identity. A leaked discussion paper indicates it will be expanded to include making it illegal “to change or suppress a person identifying as transgender or gender diverse.” Before winning this year’s state election, Premier Chris Minns promised to outlaw sexuality conversion practices, without explicitly extending his commitment to the transgender community.
The ACL says the discussion paper indicates that the law could criminalise parents, pastors, and healthcare workers for providing non-affirming care for children who are confused about their gender. It writes that: “This is despite numerous advanced nations including the UK, Finland and Sweden moving away from “affirmation therapy” based on research suggesting social affirmation and medical intervention on children experiencing gender incongruence has serious long-term and often irreversible medical effects.”
Mr. Daley told the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) that the form of the prohibition needed to be carefully considered, and his government’s intention was to “strike a careful balance between prohibiting harmful practices and ensuring freedom of religious belief.” Under the proposal, the powers of Anti-Discrimination NSW to oversee a civil complaints scheme would run parallel to any criminal regime, similar to how the body considers vilification complaints.
The newspaper writes that the consultation paper provides exemptions for the expression of a belief, or delivery of religious practices such as sermons unless they have the direct or primary purpose of changing or suppressing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also suggests exemptions for any health service or treatment that is necessary in the health provider’s reasonable professional judgment or that is required to comply with their legal or professional obligations. A lawyer who is familiar with the consultation said the proposals applied in any setting, but the final legislation was unlikely to criminalise parents just for talking about their concerns with their children, pointing out that other jurisdictions have a serious harm test and took more of an educational approach.
A government working group has begun closed consultations with selected stakeholders including national LGBT groups and the Catholic Church. Kit Kowalski, co-founder of the Women’s Rights Network Australia, told the SMH she believed the reason for the targeted consultation was “to limit debate because there was broad social consensus that conversion therapy for sexuality was bad, but gender identity was more contentious”.
The ACL says If the legislation passed, “We may see harm caused to our most vulnerable in society. We must respond promptly and pressure the Minns government to provide specific protections for parents, pastors and medical professionals to ensure the safety of our children and the freedom to uphold a Biblical view of sex and sexuality. [Despite pre-election promises to provide those protections] the current legislative proposal fails to offer assured protections for parents, pastors, counsellors, and those offering advice or assistance at the individuals consent.”
The Christian lobby group says the leaked paper indicates that clinicians are being pressured by the law to forgo best-practice and conform to a trans-affirming narrative; parents who advise their gender-confused child against undergoing medical reassignment procedures face prosecution; and pastors and churchgoers will be banned from directly pastoring or praying for a congregant with gender identity or sexuality issues.
It writes: “These developments are alarming. Those who experience gender incongruence, especially children and young adults, are some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is imperative that they can hear a scientific perspective that they are biologically and unalterably male or female plus a Biblical perspective which explains that “God created them in His own image, male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27). That they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm139:14) and loved by Him. This is an assurance of truth that must not be hindered.”
The ACL urged Christians to lobby the Minns government for better protections for believers through its website.