Plans to ban conversion therapy 'place faith leaders at risk of prosecution'

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The Welsh government says plans to ban so-called conversion therapy could leave religious leaders at risk of prosecution.

The admission comes in the equality impact assessment for its draft LGBTQ+ Action Plan for Wales that aims "to tackle the existing structural inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ communities, to challenge discrimination and to create a society where LGBTQ+ people are safe to live and love authentically, openly and freely as themselves." 

The plan includes a commitment from the Welsh government to ban "all aspects of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy that are within our current powers" and to "seek the devolution of any necessary additional powers to enable us to achieve this." 

The Welsh government's equality impact assessment acknowledges that such a ban may impinge on religious freedom. 

"A proposal within the draft plan to ban conversion therapy practices may restrict religious freedoms and place faith leaders at risk of prosecution," it reads. 

"However, the Welsh government's position is clear - any attempts to try to change or alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through 'conversion therapy' are wrong and wholly unacceptable." 

The Welsh government comments further, "The draft LGBTQ+ Action Plan may affect matters concerning freedoms of expression on the grounds of belief and faith. However, while the right to hold a belief is absolute, the right to manifest is a qualified one."

Elsewhere in the document, it dismisses concerns about the admission of trans people to single-sex spaces, claiming that critics "overwhelmingly appear to rely on anecdotal evidence, some of which would relate to some allegations of abuse, but most of which build on deeply discriminatory stereotypes of trans and gender-diverse persons, and overwhelmingly of trans women." 

Christian Concern argues that many harmful practices are already illegal in the UK, meaning that a 'conversion therapy' ban would only target consensual support, including pastoral counselling and prayer.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, expressed alarm over the Welsh government's comments.

"Ever since the government announced plans to ban 'conversion therapy', we've warned that the ban would hit Christian ministries and pastors the hardest," she said.

"Now even the Welsh government has recognised the danger, but brushed religious freedom concerns aside."

Ms Williams continued, "The Welsh government is in the thrall of ideologically-driven activists. Many people have reasonable concerns about its approach to LGBT issues, shown in the action plan and its approach to the consultation.

"An unwarranted, broadly-worded ban on 'conversion therapy' would only truly clamp down on the religious freedom of same-sex attracted and gender-dysphoric people who want help to live in line with their freely-chosen convictions."