Scotland’s ‘conversion practices’ ban harmful, unnecessary and impractical

10 January 2024

The Scottish government has launched a consultation on its proposal to ban so-called ‘conversion practices’ relating to sexuality and gender.

It claims to target “any treatment, practice or effort that aims to change, suppress and/or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression”.

Like other bans of ‘conversion practices’ or ‘conversion therapy’, it seeks to stop people who want to shape their own sexuality or gender expression. The proposals would particularly impact Christians who seek help as they seek to honour God with their bodies.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern said:

“This unnecessary and damaging ban will prevent people from receiving the help they desperately want and need.

“The evidence shows that appropriate support from a counsellor, therapist or support group can be effective and typically improves people’s mental health.

“Forcing people who want to experience change to try to do so on their own is cruel and is more likely to cause them problems.

“The Scottish government should have the courage to admit that no new law in this area is needed and reverse this disastrous policy.”

What’s in the ban?

The ban proposed in the consultation is in a different form to the UK government’s proposed ban and to countries with existing bans.

This ban defines conversion practices…

  • To include conversations (i.e. prayer, therapy) as well as physical actions
  • To include ‘suppressing’ an orientation or identity, not just seeking to change it. In other words, it wouldn’t simply count attempts to change sexual ‘orientation’ within the ban, but also attempts to stop acting according to that identity (e.g. by being celibate)
  • To include issues relating to gender as well as sexuality.

The document explicitly includes bisexual and asexual as orientations.

It also says that people could have multiple genders or no gender. The definition cited refers to a person’s sense of their gender or genders. No mention is made, though, of people who detransition. Objectively speaking, this sense of gender changes for many people over time (whether towards or away from any given orientation or identity). This is impossible to square with repeated assertions in the document that change never happens.

No consent defence

The document claims that it is impossible for someone to consent to ‘conversion practices’ and that this should not be considered a legal defence for those accused of the new crime. In doing so, it claims that change “is not, in fact, possible”, in direct contradiction to the scientific evidence.[1]

However, the government does propose a ‘reasonableness’ defence. It specifically suggests that human rights could be argued under this defence. We previously published an analysis that a conversion therapy ban would contravene human rights; it seems that the government is seeking to address this problem by leaving it to the courts.

What actions are or aren’t included in the ban?

The proposed new offense covers the “provision of a service” and “coercive courses of behaviour”.

Making it an offence to provide a service appears to be intended to avoid occasional informal conversations from being included in the offence. The government claims this would protect parents and religious leaders providing individual support.

However, Christian therapists, counsellors, groups and specialised ministries would fall foul of the new offence if they suggest that a change in orientation or identity is a possible goal for a their ministry.

In practice, this kind of support consists of very normal conversations, prayer and mainstream mental health practices that are widespread and well-evidenced. The only significant difference is the goal a client is working towards. This demonstrates the ideological motivation of a ban – punishing intentions rather than actions.

Ministries that only seek to help Christians remain celibate would be in an uncertain position – there is a suggestion that “acts of suppression freely undertaken by a person themselves” would not be criminalised. It is unclear how this could work, given the government’s claims about consent being impossible.

Responding to the consultation

In the coming weeks, Christian Concern will provide a fuller, in-depth response to the consultation, as well as a guide on how to respond.

[1] For information on this point, visit our Free to Talk website, which provides substantial evidence that some people do experience change. The Scottish government does not cite any particular evidence to make this claim. Notice that this claim – that change is not possible – goes further than the claim that people don’t normally experience change.

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.