Prayer to change sexual orientation to be banned in Victoria

Prayer-based religious practices are included in a bill to eliminate efforts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation that has been introduced to the Victorian Parliament.

The purposes of the bill – “to affirm that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing” and “to affirm that no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming” – are in tension with traditional Christian teaching.

The bill seeks “to affirm that change or suppression practices are deceptive and harmful both to the person subject to the change or suppression practices and to the community as a whole.”

The bill defines “a change or suppression practice” to mean “a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent —

(a)  on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and
(b)  for the purpose of —
(i)  changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or
(ii)  inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The bill says “a change or suppression practice” includes “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism.”

Referring a person to either a medical-based or religiously based practice is also a change or suppression practice that is also captured.

If “serious injury” is caused, punishment includes up to ten years in prison and/or a large fine. Intentionally engaging in a change or suppression practice, through to being negligent in engaging in one, also attracts those penalties.

A lesser charge of “causing injury” will incur large fines.

Advertising or giving notice of change efforts becomes an offence, “if the advertisement or other notice indicates, or could reasonably be understood as indicating, that the person or any other person intends to engage in one or more change or suppression practices, other than for the purposes of warning of the harm caused by such practices.”

Organisations who authorise or promote, will be captured by the scope of this bill. This might apply to a church or denomination, who has member engaged in change practices. Online or remote conversations are included in the offences outlined in the bill.

The Bill is available here.

The “explanatory notes” (at the same link) explain that the religious practices referred to are examples – which means that the enforcement mechanism is not restricted to them. The bill  ” is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.”

A new “civil response scheme” inside the  Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will enforce the provisions of the bill. ).  “The Bill provides the Commission with powers to consider and resolve allegations of change or suppression practices through the facilitation of survivor-led and trauma-informed outcomes in relation to matters raised by reports, survivor support and education,” according to the explanatory notes. “Where the Commission becomes aware of serious or systemic change or suppression practices, the Bill provides the Commission with own-motion powers to investigate and enforce this prohibition.  The Bill also provides the Commission with powers to promote a greater understanding of, and compliance with, the prohibition of change or suppression practices.”

Eternity has previously reported on similar bills in the ACT and Queensland parliaments – but the Victorian bill targets religious practices in a much more specific way.