Government digs in as Church says bill to prohibit gay conversion therapy raises 'serious ethical, legal issues'

Curia position 'profoundly flawed' - MGRM

UPDATED with government, MGRM reaction: The Bill to prohibit conversion therapy, being presented to Parliament, violates the constitutional provisions on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, a Church position paper has concluded.

The government in a reaction disagreed and said the Bill was not discriminatory but, rather, sought to protect everyone's freedom.

The position paper issued by the Curia said legislation being proposed on the affirmation of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression raised a number of "serious ethical and legal issues".

"Rather than fostering a ‘culture of dignity’ in which every citizen, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, lives in an inclusive culture of recognition between human beings, the proposed Bill promotes discrimination, disrespect for personal autonomy and distrust in the accountability of professional bodies."

If the Bill is turned into law it will affirm the superior status of homosexuality over heterosexuality

In a statement this morning, the Curia said the legislation, which is being proposed on the affirmation of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, was apparently seeking to protect a category of people who may find it hard and painful to come to terms with their condition as being different from that of their peers or the rest of the population.

An analysis of the provisions of the Bill, however, showed that everyone in practice would be hindered from having free access to professional guidance, advice and any other therapeutic help that may be appropriate and needed with respect to one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, the Church said.

The proposed legislation would affect persons who are not vulnerable and who out of their own free will seek appropriate forms of therapy to change their own sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression.

The Bill, therefore, was inconsistent with the premises behind the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, 2015, and with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. It also violated the Constitutional provisions on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the Curia.

"Specifically seeking to change, repress or eliminate the orientation of a person from homosexual to heterosexual would be made a criminal offence by the Bill. But, it would be perfectly legitimate to assist a heterosexual to become homosexual. That homosexuals and heterosexuals are afforded the same legal standing and protection is perfectly legitimate. This Bill does not do that.

"If the Bill is turned into law it will affirm the superior status of homosexuality over heterosexuality."

The Bill also fails to take into consideration complex realities encountered in clinical practice and overrides the professional ethics of experts who regulate their conduct in the best interests of their clients. The Bill takes away the power from the client to set their goals with the therapist and criminalises any deviation from what it decrees.

Ministry: Church reaction based on mistaken premises

In a reaction, the Social Dialogue Ministry said the Church's objections were based on mistaken premises which hindered equality and individual freedoms.

"While the government respects the views expressed, it does not agree with them," it said.

It said that contrary to what the Church's committee had implied, the Bill was based on universal human rights and were not contradictory to the Gender Identity Bill or other Maltese law. 

"The government wants all people to be protected from invasive therapies - so called conversion therapies - which are aimed at altering the free expression of the individual. Such practices are recognised by world associations such as the American Psychological Association, as being harmful.

The government denied that any rights would be trampled upon and it said it was not true that there would be discrimination between straight and gay people. At no point did the proposed legislation distinguish between the two, but rather, it afforded protection for both. 

It was unacceptable for the government for somebody to be considered as being different, or that he suffered from some condition on the basis of his sexual orientation, gender identity or expression of his gender.

Therefore, the government said, it would continue its work in order to ensure that there was respect and dignity for all, irrespective of their sexuality or gender identity.

MGRM shoots down Church position

In a statement later, the Malta Gay Rights Movement said the Church's position paper is profoundly flawed both in its understanding of the practical implications the act will have on professional practice as well as in its legal interpretations.

"All persons have a sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression therefore no discrimination applies here. While it is more likely that conversion practices are experienced by LGBTIQ persons due to heterosexism and strongly prescribed sex and gender norms in our society, the bill simply seeks to ensure that all persons, whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are valued equally."

It is only the few who continue to be governed by prejudice and ignorance who will be affected

The Bill in no way impedes interventions by professionals to support individuals in coming to terms with their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, whatever this might be, the MGRM said.

Neither does it prevent professionals from supporting individuals in choosing what kind of relationships they enter into or whether they opt to suppress any aspect of their identity and its expression. It clearly does not prohibit clinical interventions with paedophiles.

"To imply that bisexual persons enter into extramarital relationships because of their sexual orientation denotes a serious prejudice towards bisexual persons and their ability to enter into stable, committed, monogamous relationships and a deep level of ignorance that may have negative repercussions in clinical and counselling interventions," the MGRM said.

The Church is also wrong in stating that counselling is a pre-requirement in order to effect what it terms ‘physical gender choices’.

"The vast majority of professionals who adopt an affirmative approach to all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions in counselling and clinical practice have nothing to fear from this legislation. It is only the few who continue to be governed by prejudice and ignorance who will be affected."



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