Scotland: fears for parents who oppose child's gender transition

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Concerns have been raised about the rights of parents in Scotland who oppose their child's desire to change genders. 

A consultation was launched by the Scottish government last week into detailed proposals for legislation aimed at ending "conversion practices" in Scotland.

Under the proposals, parents who attempt to "change or suppress" another person's gender identity, including within family settings, face prison. 

Criminal penalties could be incurred if they cause their children "fear, alarm or distress" over their gender identity, or are found to be "controlling" or have "pressured" their child to "act in a particular way". 

One example given in the proposals is of "preventing someone from dressing in a way that reflects their sexual orientation or gender identity". 

Those found in breach of the law could face up to seven years in prison and an unlimited fine. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom UK (ADF UK) called the proposals "vage and wide-reaching" and expressed fears about the rights of parents.

Responding to the proposals, Lois McLatchie Miller, ADF UK spokesperson for Scotland, said that "common sense parenting is not a crime". 

"Under these draconian proposals, the Scottish government would place parents under a terrifying and well-founded fear of losing their children or being locked up in prison for saying something contrary to the favoured ideology of the day," she said.

"The proposed law would violate fundamental human rights, starting with the right and duty of parents to protect their children, in addition to religious freedom and free speech rights, including for those in a position to give pastoral support.

"Children are not adults, and parents are not children. The vast majority of parents are committed to doing the sometimes difficult job of raising their children well. They deserve support and protection, not suspicion. Many hold firm, science-based beliefs in the immutability of biological sex.

"They have concerns grounded in the real-life testimonies of those who felt pushed into life-altering decisions that proved to be no solution. Parents must be supported to raise their children; not criminalised for protecting them."

Equalities Minister Emma Roddick has said that religious freedom will be safeguarded. The Christian Institute has said it will take the Scottish government to court if changes to the law threaten free speech or the criminalisation of parents and church leaders. 

The Scottish Catholic Church has said that religious bodies must be free to teach their beliefs. 

"While the Church supports legislation which protects people from physical and verbal abuse a fundamental pillar of any free society is that the state recognises and respects the right of religious bodies and organisations to be free to teach the fulness of their beliefs and to support, through prayer, counsel and other pastoral means, their members who wish to live in accordance with those beliefs," a spokesman said. 

"We would urge the Scottish Government, not to criminalise mainstream religious pastoral care, parental guidance, and medical or other professional intervention relating to sexual orientation, which is not approved by the State as acceptable.

"The worrying lack of clarity about what is meant by the term 'conversion practices' could create a chilling effect and may criminalise advice or opinion given in good faith."

Christian policy group CARE warned that the proposals could lead to the "subjective policing of speech" and that parents, teachers, church leaders and counsellors could be "caught up and unfairly criminalised".

Michael Veitch, CARE's Scotland Policy Officer, said, "At CARE for Scotland, we recognise that abusive or coercive 'practices', 'treatments' or 'therapies' aimed at changing a person's identity are wrong and a source of deep hurt to those who experience them. These things are rightly condemned, can already be reported to the police for investigation, and would already constitute a crime under existing provisions.

"The need for new legislation, and the wider impact of new laws must be carefully assessed. Senior legal professionals and others are concerned that the proposals in question risk being overbroad in their application, undermining human rights. In particular, the right to a private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression.

"Scrutiny of Scotland's hate crime legislation underlined the dangers involved with laws of this kind. An ill-defined law on 'conversion practices' could lead to the subjective policing of speech about sexuality and gender, in a range of settings."

He added, "Given these concerns, and the efficacy of existing, well understood laws targeting harmful behaviour, we question the need for the proposed ban."

The consultation runs until 2 April.