Other comment on the Northern Ireland proposal came from Dr. David Bruce, the moderator leading the Presbyterian Church. He said his ecclesial community opposes coercive therapy and supports a ban on it, while also noting the importance of accommodating those who struggle with sexuality.
“We also recognize that not everyone struggles with their sexuality, yet for those Christians who do, and ask their minister, or youth leader, to walk alongside them pastorally and prayerfully as they talk about this area of their lives, any future legislation should not criminalize either for fulfilling their pastoral duties responsibly,” he said, according to The Irish News.
A Church of Ireland spokesman said its last general synod has not expressed an opinion on therapies or promoted any of them.
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.
Fr. Bochanski said bans could “easily” be construed to apply broadly to religious activity: “conversations in pastoral settings, homilies, catechesis of children or adults, or even the advice given to a person in confession, if these present the Church’s teaching about sexual attraction, sexual identity, and chastity.”
“Surely there are other ways that the state can protect people from harm without so widely chilling honest conversation and compassionate pastoral care,” he told CNA last month.
Fr. Bochanski said backers of a ban often use several definitions of “conversion therapy.” In discussions for the general public, advocates of a ban “typically focus on stories of horrible treatment carried out by individuals and groups (some religious, some secular) with little or no psychological training or expertise.” However, the bills are often presented to legislatures in terms of “regulating medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and others in the healing professions.”
In the U.K., 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.”