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New Zealand PM: Conversion Therapy Ban May Impair Religious Freedom

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognizes that conversion therapy can do great harm but is worried that banning it could interfere with religious freedom.

The practice of trying to turn LGBTQ people straight and cisgender is “something that I know our LGBTI community rightly so feels very strongly about, and it’s an issue that I do have concerns about,” she said at a press conference Monday, according to New Zealand’s NewsHub site. But a legislative committee that recommended against a ban was “keeping in mind that there will be those who perceive that it’s a part of their freedom of expression within their religion,” she said.

Parliament’s Justice Select Committee last week released a report that declined to recommend a ban on the practice, which has been denounced as ineffective and harmful by virtually every major health group in the U.S. and many internationally. Two New Zealand citizens have submitted petitions calling for a ban, and Member of Parliament Marja Lubek last year introduced a bill that would make it illegal to subject anyone to the practice, not just minors. Several U.S. states, cities, and counties have banned use of conversion therapy on minors only.

The committee’s report acknowledged the scientific consensus that conversion therapy does harm but said “more work needs to be done” before taking action to ban it. “The desire to reduce harm by banning conversion therapy must be balanced against the desire to protect freedom of beliefs and religion for those offering the therapy,” it concluded.

When the committee released the report, LGBTQ rights activists expressed disappointment. “Religious freedom exists so that people of faith aren’t persecuted; it shouldn’t guarantee the right for them to persecute others,” said Max Tweedie, one of the people who had petitioned for a ban, NewsHub reports. Tweedie is director of Auckland Pride and a member of the Conversion Therapy Action Group.

Despite the religious freedom consideration, Ardern said she and the committee are very concerned about conversion therapy’s effect on “vulnerable young people,” according to NewsHub. “You’ll hear from my language that my concerns sit predominantly around those young people,” she said at the press conference. Ardern is a member of the liberal Labour Party, and she is a lapsed Mormon who broke with the church over its anti-LGBTQ stances.

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