The Australian Labor Party has rejected a policy proposal to criminalise ex-gay conversion therapy.
The party had originally had, in its draft platform, a policy that "opposes the practice of so-called conversion and reparative therapies on diverse sexuality and genders and seeks to criminalise these practices".
The policy had been welcomed by LGBTI groups, but was a cause for concern for the Australian Christian Lobby, which claimed the policy would result in Christian parents having their children taken away if they seek counselling for them if their child says they are same-sex attracted.
"To group religious beliefs, prayer or voluntary counselling in the same category as coercion, electric shock therapy and bizarre boot camps is dishonest. It smuggles a chilling ideological agenda into the conversion therapy issue," Australian Christian Lobby managing director Martyn Iles said in a blog post.
Labor decided against criminalising the therapy, and amended the platform at the party's national conference on Monday to instead recognise the harm caused by "so-called ex-gay, reparative or conversion pseudo-therapies and their underlying ideology". It also states the party will "develop strategies to work with communities to prevent such harm and promote justice for LGBTIQ people affected by them".
The amendment passed without a vote on the floor, and BuzzFeed News understands Labor's LGBTI group, Rainbow Labor, supported the change.
Labor senator Louise Pratt, a spokesperson for Rainbow Labor told BuzzFeed News the decision was made based on recommendations from a La Trobe study on conversion therapy, which was released earlier this year, and the party was more strongly committed against conversion therapy than ever.
"The best advice is that criminalisation won’t work and could make the situation worse and drive the practice underground," she said.
Conversion therapy is still widespread in Australia, but has largely been driven underground. In Victoria the state Labor government instituted a health complaints commissioner to investigate conversion therapy practitioners when complaints are made.
Labor has adopted several pro-LGBTI policies at the conference so far, including removing anti-discrimination exemptions for religious schools when it comes to LGBTI staff and students, and removing anti-discrimination exemptions for organisations providing government-funded social services.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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