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Update 2 | Church's conversion therapy arguments 'based on false premises' - Dalli

In position paper, Church warns Bill to criminalise gay conversion therapy 'promotes discrimination', violates Constitution, will 'affirm superior status of homosexuals'  and will 'make it a crime to assist paedophiles whose condition is manifested in same sex behaviour' 

Tim Diacono
20 February 2016, 9:30am
Last updated on 20 February 2016, 7:40pm
Archbishop Charles Scicluna: the Maltese church has come out against a law that will outlaw gay conversion therapy
Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli has insisted that the Catholic Church's arguments against the proposed criminalisation of conversion 'therapies' of LGBT+ people is "based on false premises". 

The Church earlier today came out strongly against the government’s plans to criminalise conversion “therapies” of LGBT+ people, warning that the Bill “will affirm the superior legal status of homosexuals over heterosexuals”.

In a position paper, it also warned that the law will “make it a crime to assist paedophiles whose condition is manifested in same sex behaviour” and “promote discrimination, disrespect for personal autonomy, and distrust in the accountability of professional bodies”.

The paper was drafted by theology faculty dean Rev Professor Emmanuel Agius, law faculty dean Kevin Aquilina, constitutional expert Austin Bencini, retired judge Giovanni Bonello, Rev Professor Paul Galea and Rev Professor George Grima.

The Bill in question, proposed by Dalli, seeks to criminalise conversion therapy, regardless of whether the “patient” has given their consent or not. It will also make it illegal to advertise conversion therapy or to refer someone for such treatment.

Any non-professional who is caught breaking the law will be subjected to a fine of up to €5,000 or to a maximum six months’ imprisonment, with higher fines applicable if the person in question in a minor.

Professionals – including counsellors, educators, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, doctors, family therapist and pathologists – who are found to have offered or referred people to conversion treatment will be subjected to €10,000 or a maximum year imprisonment. 

In reaction to the Church's paper, Dalli said that the American Psychological Association has recognized the damage caused by 'conversion therapies' to LGBT+ people.  

"It is not true that the Bill will contradict other Maltese laws, or that it will discriminate between homosexuals and heterosexuals. At no point does the draft law distinguish between the two sexual orientations, and it seeks to protect both of them equally." 

The Church had argued that the proposed law is inconsistent with a recent law that allows people to change their gender identity, as well as with the Constitutional provisions on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and decisions taken by the European Court of Human Rights.

“While the law allows any person to change one’s gender identity, this Bill purports to render illegal the resort to treatment ‘that aims to change…a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression,” the paper reads.

“The Bill seems to be placing the LGBTIQ within the category of persons who are vulnerable and, therefore, not fit to benefit from the legislation on gender identity. In doing so, it would render them as unfit to come to their own free and uninfluenced decisions as to whether to retain their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation or to seek measures which would

allow them to acquire a different identity or orientation.

“What would be even more oppressive of one’s civil rights is if the State purports to enter into the personal philosophical or religious reasons why one would want to change one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

It criticised the Bill as “suffering from a most basic and manifest discrimination”.

“The accepted meaning of conversion therapy is treatment directed at changing the orientation of a person from homosexual to heterosexual,” it said. “If the Bill becomes law, it will be a crime to assist a person with homosexual orientation to become heterosexual, but perfectly legitimate to assist a heterosexual to become homosexual. Does this mean that homosexuals and heterosexuals are not afforded the same legal standing and protection?

“If the Bill is turned into law, it will affirm the superior status of homosexuality over heterosexuality, and in doing so would be inconsistent with the human rights provisions of Malta’s Constitution”.

‘Bill ignores grey areas of sexual orientation’

The Church warned that the Bill fails to take into consideration the “grey areas of complex sexual orientations encountered in clinical practice”, and could indeed discourage therapists from taking on cases of patients whose early life trauma is “manifested in sexual confusion”.

It also said that the Bill will prevent married bisexual people from voluntarily seeking help to “curb his or her homosexual inclinations because he or she wants to save their marriage”.

Similarly, a homosexual person who seeks help from a therapist or a mentor because he or she wants to live a chaste life in accordance with his or her religious values or vows would be putting the latter in a position of risk of breaking the law.

‘Church must honour LGBTIQ people, in light of disturbing past’ – NGO

Gender Liberation, a NGO that was formed last year to empower gender diverse people, reacted by urging the Maltese Church to do all it can to honour the dignity and wellbeing of LGBTIQ people.

“It is important that the Church do all it can to secure full equality and equity, especially in light of its own disturbing history of oppression and discrimination towards these communities,” a spokesperson for the NGO told MaltaToday .

They also noted that the UN Committee Against Torture has explicitly questioned pseudoscientific ‘conversion therapies’ as instances of violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people. 

Tim Diacono is a journalist at MaltaToday
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