Victorian Parliament Passes Law Banning Gay Conversion Practices

Victorian Parliament Passes Law Banning Gay Conversion Practices
Image: Daniel Andrews at Midsumma Pride March 2019.

A law to ban conversion practices that seek to try and change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity has passed Victorian Parliament’s Upper House on Thursday.

This paves the way for the Bill, that makes it illegal for anyone to offer or subject someone to or advertise conversion practices, to become law in Victoria. The Victorian Legislative Council passed The Change Or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020  27-9, without amendments and with bipartisan support from Labor, Greens, Cross-bench and some Liberal MPs

The Bill was passed in the Lower House on December 10. Liberal MPs had then abstained from the vote in the Lower House.

The law says that anyone who subjects a person to conversion practices that causes serious injury can face up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $200,000. In case of injury the offender if convicted can be punished with a maximum prison term of up to five years and/or a fine of up to $100,000. 

The law covers conversion practices in all settings, including health and religious organisations. Those who think they can take a person outside Victoria to subject them to conversion practices won’t escape criminal liability either – if convicted of the offence they face a jail term of up to two years. Advertising harmful conversion practices will invite criminal prosecution and fines of up to $10,000. 

A law to ban conversion practices was one of the campaign promises of Daniel Andrews’ Labor government. The Bill now goes to the Governor for Royal assent and will be enforced as law after 12 months.

Many survivors, LGBTQI advocates and allies attended the hearing at Parliament House.

Conversion practices survivor and founder of SOGICE Survivors Chris Csabs welcomed the “historic legislation” and thanked everyone for their support.

LGBTQI Australians Deserves Better, says Harriet Shing MP

Harriet Shing, the only out member of the upper house and the first openly lesbian member of the Victorian Parliament, acknowledged the many victims and survivors conversion therapies which sought to change their sexual orientation and gender identity, in her speech during the debate on the Bill in the Upper House.

“I want to make sure that we are very clear in this debate around the very human impact that takes place upon us as individuals when the world that we live in as LGBTIQ folk says in fact that we are other and that we are different. I want to recognise that it is all too convenient for people who oppose this bill to start from the position that they do not have anything against LGBTIQ people like me. It is this cognitive dissonance, it is this doublespeak, that does such a disservice to the pain and the disadvantage, the discrimination, the harassment, the vilification that we face every single day, and this is the cause and this is the root of shame,” said Shing.

“Shame comes in so many layers, and people who grow up in a family or in a faith that says that they are not good enough, that they are wrong – that we are wrong – that says in fact that love is conditional upon us either denying who we are or agreeing to change, or in certain tragic circumstances, too many of which I am aware of personally, are forced to change. It is not acceptable that in a debate like this victims and survivors and our communities—my communities—are denied the opportunity to have our equality, our pain and hurt and trauma, on a footing which is of the utmost importance.”

Shing’s request for 5-6 minutes of additional time to finish her speech was rejected by the Opposition. She concluded her speech by saying that the LGBTQI community deserves better. “We deserve better. We deserve better than to have to beg Australia for the right under marriage legislation to be with and to marry and to have our relationships recognised at law on an equal footing.”

 Sheena Watts MP and the first Indigenous woman to represent the Labor Party in the state Parliament termed conversion practises as “harmful and insidious” and said “freedom of religion does not include the freedom to inflict harm.”

‘The Bill Does Not Stop You From Being A Homophobe’

MP Sonja Terpstra called out opposition to the Bill as “ridiculous” and “rubbish” and schooled Opposition MPs in what the Bill was all about. “It is about supporting people, not telling them that they are wrong or broken,” said Terpstra.

“These practices which this legislation goes to the heart of cause immense harm. There have been suicides of people who have gone through these practices, many families broken, lives shattered… This is about banning those practices. It is not about stopping someone honouring their religion or honouring their faith or praying,” the MP added.

Reason Party MP Fiona Patten referred to the intense campaigning by conservative groups against the Bill. “Freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not allow you to cause harm. So let us be clear: this bill will not stop you from being a homophobe. It will not even stop you from preaching hate. You can still share your views of Sodom and Gomorrah; you just cannot single out an individual,” said Patten.

Animal Justice Party MP  and the father of two trans children Andy Meddick,  referred to statistics that, 36% of the youth who die by suicide are from the LGBTQIA community and one of the major reason is rejection by the family and community. “It is our job as parliamentarians to change laws that help shift attitudes and promote inclusivity and acceptance. This is one of those important steps. I know my children are not broken because of their gender identities, and now Victoria’s laws might finally reflect that,” said Meddick.

Attorney General Jaclyn Symes answered queries from members through the day about the Bill. “Bigoted and harmful change or suppression practices are not tolerated in Victoria – tonight the Parliament passed our Bill to stamp them out for good,” Symes posted on Twitter.

Opposition Seeks Delay In Vote, Amendments

Liberal members said while they support the intention to ban conversion practices, they expressed opposition to the Bill citing calls by faith organisations and the Australian Medical Association. Many Liberal MPs banded together to support Shadow Attorney General and Liberal-National MP Edward O’Donohue’s amendments to the Bill. 

The amendments introduced by O’Donohue sought to delay a vote on the Bill and instead send it for further consultation. The amendments sought clarifications on rights of children and parents to seek assistance with gender identity and sexual orientation, legal competence of children under 18 to provide informed consent for puberty blocker treatment, right of individuals to seek voluntary assistance via faith organisation counselling services and rights of faith organisations to provide care for those voluntarily seeking assistance with regard to their gender identity and sexual orientation.

O’Donohue’s motion to withdraw the Bill was defeated 19 to 16 and the motion to send the Bill for committee inquiry was defeated 22-15. O’Donahue’s amendment to remove provisions that would give the Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission powers to investigate serious or systemic conversion practices was also defeated 19-16.

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