Both political rhetoric and the legislative scope of the bill are likely to have broad influence, Bochanski said, and there is a risk of mischaracterizing Catholic approaches.
“Proponents of the legislation have been increasingly successful in convincing the general public that whenever a parish priest, a college chaplain, or an apostolate like Courage talks to someone about the importance of living virtuously and choosing chaste friendship instead of same-sex intimate relationships, what they're really doing is practicing ‘conversion therapy’,” he said. “This is a serious mischaracterization, and gives people the mistaken impression that the Church and its ministers are intentionally harming people and trying to ‘pray away the gay’.”
There is some question over what practices even have existed in Ireland. The Irish government’s Department for Equality told The Irish Catholic that the prevalence of conversion therapy is not known.
Patricia Casey, a professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin, told The Irish Catholic she has “never seen conversion therapy for gay people in Ireland or Britain, in my whole career.” She objected that the bill is an “unacceptable intrusion” into psychology, suggesting that it appeared to be “a ruse to try and promote more gender ideology.”
“It’s doing far more than banning conversion therapy, it’s actually dictating how doctors and mental health professionals must interact with people who have gender questions and issues,” Casey said.
The evangelical Christian groups Affinity and the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches also criticized the Irish bill. The ban’s backers include the Anti-Conversion Therapy Coalition, which is active in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.
On April 20 the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a non-binding resolution calling for a ban on conversion therapy “in all its forms.” The motion, which passed 59-24, said that “it is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure,” BBC News reports. It called on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargery to put forward legislation to ban the practice. The assembly rejected an amendment that said “legitimate religious activities” like preaching, prayer and pastoral support do not constitute conversion therapy.
Ulster Unionist Party assembly members proposed the original resolution, while Democratic Unionist Party members proposed the failed amendment.
The Anti-Conversion Therapy Coalition opposed the protection for religion in the Northern Ireland resolution, saying it would allow “for religious reasons to be used as an exemption to practice conversion therapy, on the grounds that it is religious practice.”
“We believe that this will create a loophole that will be utilized in a way that is contradictory to the ideals of (the coalition), and to the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ in Northern Ireland,” it said in an April 17 statement.
While the Northern Ireland Assembly has significant local control, the U.K. Parliament could put forward legislation to govern other parts of the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Teresa May’s government backed a ban on “conversion therapy” in 2018, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson last summer said plans for a ban would be advanced, BBC News reports. Several LGBT activists have resigned from the government’s LGBT advisory panel, claiming the government is not proceeding fast enough.
The push for a “conversion therapy” ban could face complications with the success of a legal challenge to transgender medical practices on minors.
In December 2020 the U.K.’s high court ruled that children are unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty. The case was brought by claimants including Keira Bell, a woman who for a time identified as male. She received puberty blockers at age 16 after just three one-hour appointments, then received hormonal treatments at age 17. She had a double mastectomy at the age of 20.
She now questions the medical treatment and refers to the treatments she received as “a tortuous and unnecessary path that is permanent and life-changing.”