The Political Weaponisation of “Gay Conversion Therapy”

The Premier of Tasmania, Jeremy Rockliff, seems to be increasingly committed to following other states in banning ‘gay conversion therapy’. Just to be completely clear, the report by The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) itself records that there is no evidence of this actually occurring. As a submission by the Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS) categorically states:

            AACS is not aware of any Tasmanian Christian school having been involved in, or having offered    or supported, any form of coercive SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) conversion       practices. It is important to clearly state that AACS does not support any coercive and abusive      gay conversion practices. They are abhorrent. We acknowledge that some people have          been deeply hurt through these terrible practices and they have no place in modern Australia.          Whether there is a need for the Tasmanian Parliament to introduce new legislation to address     these archaic practices is, however, questionable. There has been no compelling    evidence

provided by the TLRI that these abusive practices remain in use in Tasmania. And if          they were, they would be covered by existing health regulations and professional standards…            [2.7.5]

With a report over 300 pages long, the TLRI is probably banking on hardly anyone reading it. But the practical ramifications for legal, social and cultural change are enormous.

Tassie’s Brave New World

The Tasmania Law Reform Institute’s work on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices (April, 2022) will form the legal basis for the Tasmanian Parliament in deciding what legislative practices will be implemented. Significantly, the report recommends no less than sixteen(!) major changes:

  1. Tasmanian law should be reformed to address the perceived harms of SOGI.
  • The Mental Health Act should be amended such that another person’s sexual orientation should not be assessed or treated.
  • An additional provision to the Mental Health Act that no one’s gender identity or expression alone are to be considered as a mental illness.
  • Medical professionals who treat mental health conditions relating to gender identity and dysphoria should be prescribed by Tasmanian health.
  • The assessment or treatment of another person in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be undertaken unless expressly authorised to do so. This ‘offence’ should be viewed as being aggravated if it continues or the conduct is directed to a child or vulnerable person.
  • The creation of a new provision in the Mental Health Act to receive, refer and report on complaints regarding all unauthorised mental health-like assessments.
  •  That all forms of SOGI conversion practices be included in the Health Complaints Acts 1995 (Tas).
  • That Section 20 of the Health Complaints Act be amended to specify that a) someone can receive health care without discriminating against their sexual orientation / gender identity b) no-one’s sexual orientation / gender identity is a fault, dysfunction or pathological condition.
  • The Health Complaints Commissioner investigate and report all findings to the Chief Civil Psychiatrist.
  1. Any public act of promoting a conversion practice be classified as an incitement to hatred and thus be included in Section 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).
  1. The Anti-Discrimination Commissioner be given the discretionary power to cooperate and coordinate with other state offices to investigate complaints with Tasmanian anti-discrimination law to be reformed accordingly.
  1. That the Commissioner be given the power to investigate allegations beyond the 12-month limitation period, and thus, further clarifying Section 63(2) of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
  1. The elements of SOGI conversion practices should be set out under tort law with a new provision to the Civil Liability Act.
  1. Twenty-four months after the Tasmanian law has been reformed, SOGI conversion practices be understood under the Civil Liability Act to be a form of child abuse.
  1. That someone who engages in SOGI conversion practices be prosecuted under the Criminal Code Act 1924 (Tas) with a specific offense.
  1. Enough funding be provided to adequately educate religious organisations as to what is and is not acceptable, as well as what avenues of redress is open to those who have been subjected to SOGI conversion practices.

Highly Selective Religious Representation

Significantly, the only religious group that the TLRI sought a representative from was the Uniting Church of Australia. This really ‘bells the cat’ as to what conclusions the TLRI are seeking to find and subsequently legislate. The ‘progressive’ views of the Uniting Church on homosexuality are well-known.

The Institute defends the decision to consult only with them on the tenuous premise that the Uniting Church is already broadly accepting of “community members of all backgrounds and identities” as well as being “the nation’s largest non-government provider of community and health services”. This second point is highly debatable, indeed almost definitely false. That honour goes to the Roman Catholic Church, the major denomination in Australia which was not official consulted or represented in the final report.

Religious Teaching without ‘Repentance’

The TLRI report allows for people to teach what the Bible says, as long as people are not helped to follow it. As 2.6.15 states:

            [It is OK to] Believe and preach that sexual divergence from heterosexuality is ‘sinful’.       That is not part of a conversion practice unless it is accompanied by assertions that a           sexually divergent person can and should subject themselves to intervention to remove the          ‘sin’. 

This is condemning people of faith to hypocrisy. i.e. to believe and teach something that they have no intention of putting into practice. Significantly, this is a danger that Jesus Himself constantly warns against (Matt. 7:24-27) and condemns (Matt. 23:1-3).

In an attempt to counter the suspicion that the report “serves to unjustly discriminate or disproportionately target any social, political or religious group” [2.6.16], the TLRI argues that they are not targeting “classes of individuals” who hold to a particular belief, but “general classes of conduct that arise from a belief”. However, once again, this really begs the question. What “class of individual” believes one thing and practises another?

Conversion Equals Terrorism

The report itself doubles down, saying that some religious beliefs lead to behaviour that is worthy of prosecution.

            “For instance, laws on sedition, terrorism, domestic violence, hate speech, discrimination,            blasphemy, and so on, are all responses to conduct grounded in ideological, religious or cultural       beliefs which parliament(s) have considered are a risk to individuals or the community.”   [2.6.16]

Can assisting someone to change from homosexual acts and desires really be equated with “sedition, terrorism, domestic violence and hate speech”?

There we be a “Thought Police”

The TLRI is aware that laws need to address “conduct rather than the underlying beliefs that motivate it.” They explicitly acknowledge this complexity as presented by the submission from Tasmania Police who wrote:

            It should be noted that offences that require ideological motivations are likely to complicate         the process of police investigation and prosecution for activities that otherwise constitute         unlawful behaviour. The TLRI is correct, in the view of Tasmania Police, to assert that law enforcement agencies do not have the capacity or expertise to investigate or prosecute           matters that require establishment of an ideological basis for an act…

            Noting that the TLRI has not reached the stage of defining SOGI conversion practices for the         purpose of law reform, Tasmania Police asks the TLRI to continue to be cognisant of the very   real difficulties of investigating and prosecuting ideologies. [2.6.20]

We Will be Made to Wear the Ribbon!

It’s was only a little over a decade ago that the TV show Seinfeld did an episode in which the character of Kramer refuses to wear an Aids ribbon. Comedians seem to be more socially prescient than the rest of society. But what was once a joke, is quickly becoming no laughing matter.

This is because what has become clear is that the LGBTIQ+ community will now only accept total affirmation. Anything else is to be considered ‘harmful’ and therefore guilty of both criminal and civil prosecution. And as such, if Jeremy Rockliff does not take a truly liberal stand against this report then religious practitioners—such as me—will almost definitely be going to gaol within the next three years.

– Mark Powell