Updated: Nov 22, 2021

HERE is the Cooper Report which recommends criminalising what are described as 'conversion practices'.

As to the proposed definition the report states:

The Forum proposes that an act constitutes a conversion practice where it is directed against another person or specific group of persons, and attempts to suppress, “cure” or change that person’s or those persons gender identity or sexual orientation.”[1]

Regarding the purpose of the definition, the report opines:

A broad definition of conversion practices is essential to ensure that all forms of these practices are captured in legislation and so prevent the exploitation of loopholes that would allow those providing, advertising or advocating conversion practices to continue doing so with impunity. Any definition must cover all practices that seek to suppress, “cure” or change sexual orientation or gender identity”. [2]

As I interpret the above definition, merely trying to persuade a person, however gently, to refrain from homosexual activity, would constitute a ‘conversion practice’ , as it would be trying to ‘change’ or ‘suppress’ a person’s sexual orientation.

Whilst ‘orientation’ might refer to inclinations rather than acts, I do not think the Report would advocate this distinction because it states:

The ban must also apply to acts that suppress or inhibit the free exploration of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. This is because a large number of LGBT+ youth are often at the questioning or exploration stage of their sexual orientation or gender identity when they are first subjected to conversion practices. Excluding such persons from the protection of a ban would ignore many potential victims, so explicit guidance on how to work with questioning persons is essential”.[3]

It does not appear to matter whether the subject of the conversion practice, approaches the person who seeks to change or suppress their sexual behaviour, nor whether they themselves express a desire to change or supress it. The act merely has to be directed at a specific individual or individual(s).

Furthermore, it would appear that a single act of trying to gently persuade a person to change or suppress their sexual behaviour could constitute a conversion practice.

The report provides a number of fictional scenarios where the offence would be committed.

However, in addition to those, it would appear that in the following scenario, person A would commit an offence if the Report’s proposals were implemented:

Person B approaches person A (both male) and states that he has homosexual desires and has acted on these. He wishes that he did not have these desires but does not feel as though he can resist acting on them.

Person A as a devout Christian expresses sympathy, but states that person B has sinned and should repent. Person A says that person B should pray for the ability to resist acting on his desires. Person A states that ultimately what person B does is up to him, but he cannot condone his actions and believes that it would be in his interests, in terms of his happiness and/or eternal salvation, if he resists the urge to act on his desires.

In this example person A has tried to change or suppress person B’s proclivity for homosexual acts. Based on case study 3 on page 14 of the report, it may be that the Report’s authors would not intend for person A to have committed an offence, however without a more precise definition of ‘act’, it is at least arguable that his conduct would be encompassed within the definition.

Page 8 of the Report deals with the issue of consent. The section fails to mention that the law has already addressed the issue of the type of harm one can legally consent to, namely any harm up to grievous bodily harm which cannot be consented to. Furthermore, the arguments put forward in this section seem to be premised on homosexuals and lesbians not having autonomy or agency.

The Report acknowledges that criticising homosexual behaviour would not amount to a conversion practice, as the act must be directed towards a specific individual or individual(s).[4] Nonetheless, the proposals are extremely radical; they would effectively criminalise a form of religious proselytism.

Furthermore, having others attempt to influence one’s behaviour is part of living in human society; there are already laws against harassment, which would cover a person making unsolicited attempts to influence another’s behaviour, when they have been asked by that person, to stop.

The Report’s true ideological motivation is revealed in the passage below:

It is not only the individual who would be harmed if exemptions were made. Allowing any LGBT+ person to undergo conversion practices would contribute to and promote the continued stigmatisation of LGBT+ persons in wider society and damage the LGBT+ community as it furthers the belief that LGBT+ people are undesirable, abnormal and need to be “cured[5]

Therefore according the Report, it is not sufficient that certain ‘sexual identities’ and ‘gender orientations’ are tolerated, they must be respected and the authors of the Report wish to use the criminal law to achieve this. If the authors of the Report were merely seeking toleration, they could not possibly justify criminalising arrangements that were entered into by consent.

[1] P2, pat II para 4 [2] P1 para 2 [3] P3 part III para 4 [4] P14 case studies 1 & 2 [5] Para p p9

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