MLAs pass motion banning conversion therapy 'in all its forms'

The motion was brought by UUP MLAs, but the DUP sought to amend the bill. Credit: PA

Stormont MLAs have clashed on what form a future ban targeting gay conversion therapies should take.

While there was widespread support for ending conversion practices during an Assembly debate on Tuesday, the reach and scope of legislation was a matter of contention.

An Assembly motion tabled by the UUP calling on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to introduce a ban before the end of the current mandate passed by 59 votes to 24.

The motion was non-binding, but Ms Hargey has already signalled her intent to bring forward a ban and backed the motion during the debate.

A majority of DUP members opposed the motion after failing to amend it.

The original motion said it was "fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure".

The DUP amendment, while supporting a potential ban on gay conversion practices, sought to include protections for "legitimate religious activities such as preaching, prayer and pastoral support", insisting those do not represent conversion therapies.

The amendment was criticised by political rivals for removing a line from the original motion saying it was wrong to view the LGBTQ community as requiring a "fix or cure".

The amendment was defeated by 59 votes to 28.

  • Video report by Vicki Hawthorne:

Speaking ahead of the debate, Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said that any ban must include what he called "harmful religious practices".

Patrick Corrigan

"In recent years, proponents of so-called conversion therapy have tried to hide their anti-LGBT+ views by representing these practices as being about mental health and religious liberty, often carried out in the context of pastoral care or prayer ministry," Mr Corrigan said.

“Being against bogus conversion practices is not a threat to religious freedom.

“MLAs should not be distracted by spurious arguments and should ensure that any legislation not only covers the now, thankfully, rare conversion activity in healthcare settings, but addresses religious practices where demonstrable harm results.”

UUP MLA Doug Beattie tabled the motion with party colleague John Stewart.

"I'm a straight man, I was born straight, there is no fix or cure for me," he told fellow Assembly members at the start of the debate.

"There is no therapy that will make me a gay man. So why on earth would we say that a gay man wasn't born that way?

"Why would we say that a gay man can be fixed or cured?”

DUP MLA Pam Cameron said it was important to be specific about what was being banned, warning against sweeping measures.

"I am in full support of a ban on the dangerous practices of conversion therapy in Northern Ireland," she said.

"My party believes that discrimination against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation is wrong. We are all created equal and should be treated as such. No one should ever be forced into treatment for being gay.

"I share the grave concerns of many members at the various abhorrent practices that have been promoted under the umbrella of conversion therapy in the past and those that sadly still exist.

"However, we are concerned about the absence of any clear or evidence-based definition of conversion therapy in the motion.”

She continued: "There is a risk that such ambiguity, if translated into legislation, would criminalise legitimate activities or conversations. We simply want to avoid unintended and unjustified consequences.”

Ms Hargey said the "cruel and inhuman" practice should be ended.

She said she would bring forward legislation as "soon as possible" but highlighted the need for further research and consultation.

The minister said she did not want to create "loopholes" that allowed therapies to continue under different names.

"I know how huge the hurt and damage can be to people when they are told that they need to be fixed or cured," she said.

"This language or behaviour is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated."

  • Video report by Sara O'Kane: