New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern explains decision not to ban traumatising ‘conversion therapy’

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has explained her government’s decision to delay a ban on traumatising gay conversion therapy, acknowledging a need for “religious freedom”.

The controversial practice of so-called gay ‘conversion therapy’ was raised after more than 20,000 people signed petitions calling for it to be outlawed in New Zealand.

The Justice Select Committee was tasked with considering the petitions and advised the government to delay making a decision about whether to outlaw it due to concerns about freedom of expression.

“We believe more work needs to be done before any decision is taken to ban it,” it said in its report. “In particular, thought must be given to how to define conversion therapy, who the ban would apply to, and how to ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained.”

Jacinda Ardern addressed the report on at a post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, October 21.

“I do have concerns about it so I would like to look at that Select Committee report,” she said. “It’s something that I know our LGBTI community rightly so feels very strongly about, and it’s an issue that I do have concerns about.”

Conversion therapy rally

Rally calling for an end to conversion therapy in Canada. (Global News)

The Human Rights Campaign calls conversion therapy “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression”.

Medical experts consider interventions to change someone’s sexual orientation to be pseudo-scientific, ineffective and harmful; survivors have called it a form of “psychological torture“.

Ardern expressed concern for the “very, very vulnerable, particularly young people in that situation”. She added: “You’ll hear from my language that my concerns sit predominantly around those young people.”

But she said the committee would be “keeping in mind that there will be those who perceive that it’s a part of their freedom of expression within their religion”.

So-called ‘conversion therapy’ has been described a form of psychological torture (Pexels)

The Conversion Therapy Action Group (CTAG) said last week it was disappointed in the committee’s decision not to recommend a ban.

Max Tweedie, a member of CTAG and director of Auckland Pride, said: “I find the committee’s report even more disappointing because they acknowledge the widespread harm conversion therapy causes, but still fall short of recommending a ban.

“Religious freedom exists so that people of faith aren’t persecuted, it shouldn’t guarantee the right for them to persecute others.”