". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


British Peers Blast Bill to Ban Conversion Therapy

February 20, 2024

A new bill to ban conversion therapy in the U.K. is facing opposition in the House of Lords. House of Lords Bill 5 was hotly contested earlier this month when brought to the floor of the upper chamber of the U.K. parliament, with more peers opposing the legislation than supporting it.

Over the course of the five-hour debate, 29 members of the House of Lords spoke in opposition to the legislation, while only 15 spoke in support of it. One of the chief concerns raised by those opposed to the bill was its failure to define “conversion therapy” in such a manner as to protect the religious liberty of those who oppose homosexuality or transgenderism on religious grounds.

The text of the bill defines conversion therapy as “any practice aimed at a person or group of people which demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to another” and which aims “to (a) change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or (b) suppress a person’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Michael Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, a member of the Conservative Party, said of the legislation, “[I]n nearly 40 years in Parliament, I have never seen a more badly drafted or dangerous piece of legislation.” He asked, “What does ‘any practice’ mean? How is that defined? Does ‘any practice’ include a parent not supporting a child’s decision to dress as a member of the opposite sex? ... [W]here does the bill say that?”

The legislation’s sponsor, Baroness Burt of Solihull, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, announced at the beginning of the five-hour debate that the bill “is deliberately couched in general language so we can build on the discussion today and bring forward amendments to make it stronger and more acceptable to more colleagues and external groups.” She continued, “As defined in my bill, conversion therapy is any practice with the predetermined purpose of changing or suppressing a person’s expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These practices are based on the belief that there is a right way to behave and live your life.”

Noting that she has heard concerns about suppression of free speech and religious liberty as well as concerns “from professionals who work with people who may be questioning their sexuality or gender identity, like psychiatrists and teachers; and from parents who fear they will not be able to talk to their children openly about these issues,” the Baroness said, “When you boil it all down, these all raise the same question: where do we draw the line on what is criminalised? When does a conversation become a conversion practice?”

Lord Forsyth responded, “Of course it is an attack on free speech if parents do not feel they can give guidance to their children. It is an absolute basic duty of parents to give guidance to their children and to prevent them from suffering any harm. The Bill criminalises advice given in good faith.” He noted that, according to the debated bill, the penalty for “telling your child not to take puberty blockers, or whatever they are,” is “a fine not exceeding level 5.” According to the U.K. Sentencing Council, there is no limit on fines for level 5 offenses, meaning that anyone found guilty of practicing “conversion therapy” could face unlimited fines under the proposed legislation. Lord Forsyth quipped, “I suppose we should be grateful for that, because in Scotland they are proposing seven years in prison. The world has gone mad.”

Even Robert Lord Winston, a medical doctor and a member of the left-wing Labour Party, said that “there are too many flaws in this bill to let it slide without being at least pretty critical of it.” Relying on his own decades of experience in the field of medicine and human sexuality and fertility, Lord Winston stated, “When you start looking at the data on transgender, the problem we very much have is that far more is not known than is known, and the definitions are extraordinarily difficult.”

He added, “The basic problem is this: we are at risk of legislating for a piece of biology that we really do not understand. We do not understand the underlying mechanisms.” Referring to the absence of research on transgenderism and gender transition procedures in particular, he concluded, “Therefore, any kind of legislation putting this into law is wrong. What we might want to do is to call for research. … But it would be quite wrong for us to pass this bill, and I cannot see that any serious amendments would help it progress.”

Sheila Baroness Noakes, a member of the Conservative Party, questioned whether the bill was even necessary. “I believe that we should apply stringent tests to any new legislation, particularly when criminal offences are created,” she said. “There needs to be clear evidence of a problem, legislation has to be necessary to deal with it. The drafting must be clear and unambiguous, and the new law must avoid other harms. I believe that the Bill does not pass any of these tests…”

Referring to the force transgender activists wield, the Baroness concluded, “The fact that LGBT lobbyists assert that there is a problem does not constitute evidence on which responsible legislators can rely.”

Another Tory, Andrew Lord Robathan, quipped, “Physical abuse, detaining somebody against their will, and assault are already illegal, so what is the bill about? What is it for?” He added, “It seems to me, I am afraid, to be purely virtue signaling to placate a very small, outraged minority who think that their choice of lifestyle must never be questioned or discussed, however gently, by parents or anyone else.”

All told, 15 members of the Conservative Party, four non-affiliated members, four crossbenchers, three members of the Labour Party, one member of the Liberal Democratic Party, one member of the Democratic Unionist Party, and a bishop of the Church of England spoke against the bill.

In comments to The Washington Stand, author and associate editor of the U.K.-based Catholic Herald Gavin Ashenden said, “The moral, philosophical, and legal implications of banning any reconsideration of gender identity vary from being deeply inhumane to offering the most serious challenges to free thought and free speech.”

He added, “The opposition in the House of Lords is very welcome, but it is in danger of being too little and too late. … But the fear already is that it will be too ineffective and much too late; and that the grip on the political process that progressive political ideology has achieved may be too far developed to be resisted with much success.”

The bill is currently in committee stage, meaning members of the House of Lords may go through the legislation line-by-line to seek clarity and propose amendments. The bill will then pass on to the report stage and, finally, the third reading. Should it survive this final stage, it will be sent to the House of Commons to be voted on there.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.