Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 [Act 3 of 2021]

The Victorian Parliament recently passed legislation which prohibits attempts to suppress individuals who identify with a gender other than (transgender) their assigned gender at birth (cisgender) and/or who identify as homosexual (gay). The legislation has implications not only for brothers and sisters in the State of Victoria, but Australia-wide.

Background

LGBTI+ community activists have long held that their sexuality is not a matter of choice; is biological and is therefore not sinful. They argue “you can’t pray away gay.” They further argue that in the 1970s, society in general ceased viewing individuals who wished to change their gender identity or sexual preferences as suffering from a mental illness or otherwise pathologizing them.

Since the 1970s a few religious organisations have promoted ‘Religious Conversion Therapies,’ some of which are extreme and have included: forced mediation, electroconvulsive treatment, beatings and rape. Therapies at the other end of the scale include: counselling, prayer, scriptural reading, fasting, retreats or spiritual healing such as the laying on of hands etc.

The Victorian Health Minister referred the matter to the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner on 15 May 2018, and the Commissioner’s inquiry recommended in May 2019, that legislation be passed to prohibit Conversion Therapy/Practices. The Victorian Government accepted the Commissioner’s recommendations and for a 6-week period (October-November 2019) limited public consultation occurred. A Bill was introduced to the Victorian Parliament on 25 November 2020. The Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 10 December 2020, and the Legislative Council on 4 February 2021, and received Royal Assent on 16 February 2021. The Regulations to the new Act have not yet been made.

Opposition to the Act

The Bill was supported by the Labour Government, the Greens and most of the Independents; the Coalition parties did not oppose the Bill but sought further debate and some additional amendments but did not have the numbers to do so. Opposition to the Act has been expressed by a significant number of religious organisations who took out newspaper advertisements in Victoria including the Australian Christian Lobby (Managing Director Martyn Iles) and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne (Archbishop Peter Comensoli).

Key provisions of the Act

Obviously, the Act is lengthy, and the following extracts are provided as an overview only:

  • The definition of ‘Conversion Therapy’ or ‘Suppression Practice’ is intentionally extremely broad. It was argued that this was because some organisations had become creative in avoiding attempts to subvert the purpose of the legislation.
  • Section 3(2)(b) states, “to affirm that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing; and (c) to affirm that no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming.”
  • Section 5 contains the definition of Change or Suppression Practice. S5(1) states, “a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent.” [emphasis added]. S5(1)(b)(ii) states, “Inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
  • Section 5 (3) states, “a practice includes, but is not limited to the following… (b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer-based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism” [emphasis added].
  • Section 8 Extra-territorial Application – S8(1)(a) states, “a person engages in conduct outside; or partly outside, Victoria; and (b) there is a real and substantial link between the conduct and Victoria.” Section 12 makes it an offence to take a person from Victoria for a Change or Suppression Practice.
  • Offences set out in the Act include two levels of criminal penalty: one involves where a person engages in a Change or Suppression Practice that causes ‘injury’ (physical or psychological), and a high level of penalty for causing ‘serious injury.’ The penalty provisions include where intentionally engaging in a suppression practice towards an individual that causes injury and where the person engaging in the suppression practice is negligent as to whether the practice would cause injury. Penalties apply to both natural people and bodies corporate. Penalties for causing injury are up to five years imprisonment or a fine of up to $99,133 for an individual and a fine of up to $495,600 for a body corporate. Penalties for causing serious injury are up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of up to $198,264 or both for an individual and a fine of up to $991,320 for a body corporate.
  • A Suppression Practice by a person who is an officer of a body corporate is taken to be an action by that body corporate. This would mean that action taken by, for example, a Welfare brother of an ecclesia would be taken as being done by the ecclesia as well as the individual concerned.
  • Section 13 makes it an offence to advertise a Change Suppression Practice.
  • Section 47 makes employers vicariously liable for offences that occur in connection with their workplace.
  • Section 65 Amends the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 by adding a new example under the definition of “Harassment” that is, “(A) repeatedly leaves pamphlets in (B’s) mailbox that state that it is wrong to gender transition and that everyone’s gender expression should match the sex they were assigned at birth.”
  • The Act provides extensive powers to the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (VHREO) to provide targeted education, receive reports and to conduct investigation requiring production of documents. Investigation findings undertaken by VHREO will be based on the ‘Balance of Probabilities.’

Other legislation and developments around Australia

I would like to acknowledge the source of most of the material below has come from a Research Note dated 1 February 2021, by Caley Otter which is available online at the Victorian Parliamentary Library and Information Service. 1

QLD

The Health Legislation Amendment Act 2020 inserted a provision which included a definition of “Conversion Practices,” but it is limited to Health Care providers or when performed on a child or person with impaired capacity.

ACT

The Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Act 2020 comes into force on 4 March 2021 and makes it an offence to remove a person interstate for therapy.

NSW/SA/TAS/WA

These States do not have current legislation, but it is under discussion and several governments have expressed sympathy with or support for future legislation.

Outside of Australia

The United Nations has called for an end to Conversion Practices and has stated that the practice may amount to ‘torture.’

Legislation exists in Brazil, Malta, Germany, parts of Spain and USA, and Canada has the matter under consideration. Government leaders in the UK and New Zealand have pledged to impose bans on Conversion Practices.

What is not a Conversion Practice?

In Victoria, while the new legislation includes ‘Prayer Based Practice,’ this is grouped with a ‘deliverance practice’ and ‘Exorcism.’ While there is no case law on the matter thus far, a legal maxim applies (Ejusdem Generis) meaning that it needs to be read in the context of ‘being of the same kind’ as the other examples. This leads me, personally, to a view it would not include a normal prayer for guidance etc.

While the Act’s definition is extremely broad, several qualifying comments have been made in the Parliamentary debate and the Attorney General’s Second reading speech around the definition and its intended application:

Debate in Legislative Assembly 26 November (P 3721) [emphasis added]:

“Although broad, the definition has been carefully designed to exclude conduct that is not directed at an individual, to reduce its impact on general public conduct such as opinion pieces and lectures. It also requires conduct be engaged in for the purpose of changing or suppressing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (or inducing a person to change or suppress) in order to limit impact on general discussions of opinions around sexual orientation or gender identity that aim to explain an opinion and not change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Second Reading Speech Victorian Legislative Assembly 26 November 2020 (P3723) [emphasis added]:

“While some religious practices may meet the definition of change or suppression practice in certain circumstances, the definition has been carefully crafted, and is not designed to capture all religious practices or teachings or to prevent people seeking religious counsel. For example, the definition of a change or suppression practice would not capture conduct where, for example, a person goes to a religious leader seeking advice on their feelings of same-sex attraction, and the religious leader only informs this person that they consider such feelings to be contrary to the teachings of their faith and does so only to convey their interpretation of those teachings and not to change or suppress the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Similarly, the definition would not capture conduct where, for example, a person confides in a religious leader that they feel their gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, and the religious leader only invites this person to attend a weekly prayer group for the purpose of better understanding their feelings and to support the person’s exploration of their feelings.

What does this mean for us?

We have been warned in Scripture that men in the last days will not endure sound doctrine and that as it was in the days of Noah and the days of Sodom and Gomorrah so it will be in the last days. As we see a marked departure from scriptural principles by world governments, we can doubtless expect to experience increasing friction and antagonism as we take a stand against their godless policies.

Personal comment

Dealing with our human condition is never easy and frequently involves internal conflict and distress. The Apostle Paul spoke of the war within his members: “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom 7:15-20). James writes similarly in James 4:1-5, and in 1 Peter 2:11 we are instructed to, “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”

What seems to be lost on society today is, that those thoughts and actions that come naturally are not of God but of the ‘flesh.’ Our lives in Christ are about self-denial and being transformed so that we emulate the mind of Christ: “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom 8:8-9).

I acknowledge that there are a small number of individuals who are born ‘Intersex’ (hermaphrodite) and that the assignment of gender is problematic and perhaps arbitrary in those circumstances. It is also without argument that some individuals struggle with their gender identity and others are attracted to the same sex. What, however, is indisputable, is that the godly intention of marriage is one between a man and a woman and then in the Lord. Furthermore, the Scriptures speak of sex outside of marriage as sin.

Bearing in mind God’s requirements, a member is free to remain single or marry as they choose. Marriage is designed by God and His requirements are contained in the Bible. It defines marriage as the union of a man and woman for life, exclusive of all others. A person baptised as a Christadelphian, and seeking marriage, should marry a similarly baptised person of the opposite sex. This is defined as ‘a marriage in the Lord’ and embraces the requirements of God.

While society and the law increasingly accept and promote arguments dictated by fleshly wisdom and fleshly desires, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

The Bible clearly and unambiguously teaches that homosexuality is sin: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21).

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 6:9-12, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

While we all sin and are worthy of death, we are offered eternal life by God’s grace. Eternal life is, however, not unconditional, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom 8:13). The principle here is that while we sin out of weakness, we need to mortify the deeds of the body and not live unto sin. We cannot abide in our sin and expect forgiveness; yes, we can sin multiple times and be forgiven, but we must understand sin for what it is and not embrace it as a way of life.

As with any sin it is our duty as ‘watchmen’ to call people to repentance. God has, however, given us all free will and if individuals choose not to obey God’s commandments, we do not punish them nor do we seek to force them to obey God. Sadly, some of our loved ones have, for example, made personal choices not to be baptised, even though it is essential for salvation. We preach, we encourage people, in love, to serve God and obey His commandments, but we do not force people. If, however, a person continues in unrepentant sin, we are instructed to withdraw from them (cp 2 Thess 3:6 and 1 Tim 6:5).

Conclusion

In my opinion, the legislation will not prevent us from promulgating our understanding of the Scripture from our platforms or to instruct individuals that it is our belief homosexuality is sin. The practical outworking of the legislation via the VHREO Commission and the courts will unfold over time. Brothers or sisters providing counselling to individuals in these circumstances may need to follow these developments carefully and if any doubt arises, may be well advised to seek legal advice.

Finally, while we are commanded to obey the laws of our political leaders, this is always subservient to the commandments of our heavenly Father. As man’s wickedness grows it may be that we might ourselves be subject to persecution: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:12-15).

Reference:

  1. C. Otter (2021) Change or Suppression (conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, Parliamentary Library and Information Service, Melbourne, parliament of Victoria.