July 11, 2017 at 5:03 am PST | by Michael K. Lavers
Church of England approves motion to ban conversion therapy

Anglican Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Peter Tatchell protests against the Church of England in 2016. He welcomed the denomination’s announcement that it supports a ban on so-called conversion therapy. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell)

The Church of England’s General Synod on Saturday approved a motion that urges the British government to ban so-called conversion therapy.

The motion — which members of the church’s national assembly approved during their meeting in the English city of York — describes conversion therapy as “unethical, potentially harmful and not supported by evidence.” It also says the controversial practice has “no place in the modern world.”

“Conversion therapy is harmful, dangerous and just doesn’t work,” said Jayne Ozanne, a lay representative from the Diocese of Oxford who introduced the motion. “People may be able to alter their behavior but they can never alter their innate desire.”

Liverpool Bishop Paul Bayes said during a debate on the motion that “LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a crime.”

“LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sickness,” he said, according to a press release the Church of England released on the vote. “LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sin.”

“We must distinguish between an ascetic and a therapeutic approach,” added Bayes. “In the church we are certainly called to help one another to conform their lives to Jesus Christ and to live lives of holiness, but we do not need to engage people in healing therapy if they are not sick.”

British LGBT and intersex rights advocates with whom the Los Angeles Blade spoke on Monday welcomed the motion.

“We strongly support the ban on (conversion therapy) and urge the British government act immediately as in our view this practice constitutes child abuse,” said Lukasz Konieczka, director of services of the London-based Mosaic LGBT Youth Center. “We also hope that Church of England will lead the World Congregation and member states of the Commonwealth toward a more accepting and loving future, safer for LGBT+ communities.”

Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBT and human rights advocate, noted to the Blade that some members of the Church of England “used to be staunch of advocates” of conversion therapy. He also said the church “might be pushing this issue to project a pro-LGBT image” in order to “counter the masses of negative criticism” it has received because of its opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Tatchell nevertheless welcomed the conversion therapy motion.

“It is a surprising and encouraging development that the Church of England has called for an end to conversion therapy,” he told the Blade.

British Parliament has yet to debate conversion therapy ban

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is among the groups that signed the motion. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. Committee Against Torture are among the international bodies that also oppose the controversial practice.

D.C. is among the U.S. jurisdictions that have banned conversion therapy to minors. The U.S. Supreme Court in May refused to hear a lawsuit against a California law that bans conversion therapy to minors.

More than 35,000 people signed a petition earlier this year that urged the British government to ban conversion therapy.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government said in response to the petition that it “does not believe that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is an illness to be treated.” Media reports indicate the British Parliament will not consider the proposed conversion therapy ban because the petition did not receive the 100,000 signatures that are necessary to prompt a debate.

“So far, the Conservative government has given no indication that it intends to ban conversion therapy,” Tatchell noted to the Blade.

The Church of England approved its motion on the same day that up to one million people gathered in London for the city’s annual Pride parade. The event coincided with the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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