Recently, the state government in Victoria, Australia, passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. The government of Victoria is committed to banning practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In particular, they had in their sights the practice colloquially called “gay conversion therapy”, which was and is a damaging practice that forcibly tries to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on human sexuality, can agree that trying to force someone to change their sexual orientation against their will, especially through abusive practices, is wrong and harmful. If that was all this Act sought to do, I suspect it would be rather uncontroversial. But that is not all that it seeks to do.
Section 5.1 of the Act states that any attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be illegal, whether with or without the person’s consent. In section 5.3, it states that attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender by “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice…” is also considered a violation of this Act. Meanwhile, Section 10.1 states that the maximum penalty for violating the Act is up to ten years in prison, as well as a substantial fine.
This Act goes into incredibly dangerous territory, violating freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, as well as freedom of sexual expression. This is worrying, as the current NZ government has already stated that it wants to pass similar legislation here.
Now, there is already plenty written on how this Act violates freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and I imagine the NZCN will have much more to say on those violations of religious freedoms in the future. But in this particular article, I want to focus on just one aspect: how this Act actually violates freedom of sexual expression, a freedom which has in recent times become sacrosanct in our New Zealand context.
So how does this Act violate freedom of sexual expression? Remember, the Act states “whether with or without the person’s consent” no attempt may be made, in consultation with others, to change how one expresses their sexuality. With that in mind, consider this hypothetical scenario: if I, as an adult heterosexual man, wanted to get counselling on how I could add gay sex to my life because I am questioning my current sexual identity, and I asked somebody to help me in that pursuit: would that be considered conversion therapy? Given how this legislation is written, yes it would! But I doubt the government would ever enforce it for a questioning heterosexual person. Meanwhile, if a gay man wants advice on how to change his sexual practices, this new Act rules that he isn’t allowed to talk to anyone, even if he wants to! The Victorian government is dictating that by law gay people must remain in their gay sexual practices, even if they feel that is not how they want to express their sexual identity. What an inconsistency! I thought the whole point of giving sexual freedom and choice to consenting adults was so that they could pursue any sexual practice or expression they wanted, as long as everyone consented?
It seems to me that, in this talk about “gay conversion”, what is really happening is we once again have an example of a largely heterosexual majority deciding the sexual practices of gay people in the name of “their protection”. This appears wrong to me, quite apart from the implications for freedom of religion for Muslims, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, and for freedom of conscience for other traditional cultures. The progressive Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, made the salient point, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
It is my hope that the New Zealand government passes a much more careful law than the Victorian one, a law which takes all New Zealanders’ rights into consideration, protecting all individuals, those in the LGBTQ+ community as well as those in various religious traditions or from traditional cultures. For sure, LGBTQ+ individuals should feel safe and free to live in our society, and should be protected from any abusive and coercive conversion therapy against their wishes. But they shouldn’t be forced to adopt or remain in particular ways of living either, especially if they are actually wanting to explore other forms of sexual expression. Gay people should have the same freedom as heterosexual people to pursue or not pursue the sexual practices they desire. Finally, that same freedom should be extended to all those who want to base their sexual expression on their religious, cultural, or philosophical tradition.
At the outset, let’s agree that any “gay conversion therapy” practices which are cruel, coercive, or against anyone’s own wishes are inappropriate.
The problem, however, is that legislation outlawing “gay conversion therapy” often goes much further than merely banning coercive practices. Instead, such legislation appears to attempt to re-engineer society, through using the law to force people to think, act, and speak differently in relation to same-sex and gender matters. For instance, the Prohibition of Conversion Therapy Bill (a private member’s bill awaiting consideration by the New Zealand Parliament), could – depending on how the courts interpret and apply the law – potentially make the following vulnerable to a criminal charge…
- counsellors who give support to anyone who voluntarily asks for help in redirecting their sexuality away from same-sex expression
- those (including parents) who advise children or youth against changing gender
- preachers and youth workers who draw attention to biblical passages against same-sex behaviour.
If this Bill were enacted, it could have a serious effect on all faith communities – Christian or otherwise – and dangerously compromise freedoms of expression and of religion. Surely a free society must allow all people to hold their own beliefs and live as they please, providing they do not infringe the rights or liberties of others.
Mark Maney’s article, on the anti-conversion therapy law which has just been enacted across the Tasman in Victoria, highlights how that law is so hazardous to freedom it even restricts the freedom of gay people themselves…
We are sharing with you a very useful brief statement issued yesterday by the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand, which is a gathering of the senior leaders of most of New Zealand’s church denominations. From across that wide denominational spectrum, the undersigned church leaders speak with one voice to urge New Zealanders to vote very carefully in the two Referendums, ‘because both decisions carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone’.
The statement we are sending today is about the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (and we will send you the NCLANZ statement on euthanasia, when it is issued next week).
Through its National Director, the New Zealand Christian Network is an active participant in the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand.
We recommend you share this statement with your family, friends, and churches.
A joint statement by the national leaders of most New Zealand church denominations
We urge the people of Aotearoa New Zealand to vote very cautiously in the two Referendums, because both decisions carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone.
The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill
We support the recent new provision in law (2019) for cannabis-based medicine to be available on prescription.
We also support the general move towards decriminalising cannabis users, and instead concentrating on a non-punitive health-based approach of helping those being harmed by cannabis use and addiction. We note that police are generally no longer prosecuting recreational cannabis use (and we want them to apply that discretion without any bias).
However we do not support the legalisation of recreational cannabis use, as proposed in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. We believe legalisation would help normalise cannabis use and increase its use (as has happened overseas). Cannabis use remains addictive and dangerous for some people, especially those under 25, and can induce psychosis, depression, loss of cognitive function, lung (and other) diseases, suicidal tendencies, and foetal harm.
Legalisation, and the rise of a cannabis industry with a network of retail shops in many communities, would undermine societal messages about reducing drug use (and also undermine the campaigns against tobacco smoking, and about driving under the influence of drugs).
The evidence from overseas is that legalisation would not end the black market in cannabis. In Canada, over 70% of cannabis is still purchased on the black market). Illegal dealers including gangs would continue to sell cannabis (at lower prices, with unsafe levels of THC, and also to those under the age of 20).
We are concerned that legalising and normalising cannabis use will increase domestic violence, cannabis-related road deaths, workplace accidents, and educational failure. We are also worried that society’s socio-economically disadvantaged groups are likely to suffer most from the increased availability and use of cannabis.
We suggest that voting ‘No to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill carries significantly fewer risks of long-term damage to New Zealand society than a ‘Yes’ vote.
We also suggest that a ‘No’ vote still leaves space for New Zealand to further decriminalise cannabis law in relation to users, while retaining penalties only in relation to producers and dealers. At the same time it could strengthen a health-based approach towards those affected by drugs, while continuing to warn society about the risks of all drug use.SIGNED…Bishop Jay Behan
, Church of Confessing Anglicans in Aotearoa New ZealandPastor Steve Burgess
, Regional Overseer, Senior Leader, C3 ChurchesCommissioner Mark Campbell
, Territorial Commander, The Salvation ArmyCardinal John Dew
, Archbishop of Wellington, Roman CatholicPastor Iliafi Esera
, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God in New ZealandRev Dr Jaron Graham
, National Superintendent, Church of the NazareneRev Tale Hakeagaiki
, Chairman, Congregational Union of New ZealandRev Charles Hewlett
, National Leader, Baptist Churches of New ZealandRev Brett Jones
, National Superintendent (Acting), Wesleyan Methodist Church of NZThe Right Rev Fakaofo Kaio
, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New ZealandRev Dr Stuart Lange,
National Director, New Zealand Christian NetworkPastor Brent Liebezeit
, President, Christian Churches New ZealandRev Andrew Marshall
, National Director Alliance Churches of New ZealandPastor David MacGregor
, National Director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa NZPastor Sam Monk
, The National Leader of Acts Churches NZ & Equippers ChurchPastor Peter Mortlock
, Senior Pastor, City Impact Churches of NZAssistant Bishop Jim Pietsch
, Lutheran Church of New ZealandPastor Boyd Ratnaraja,
National Leader, Elim Church of New ZealandPastor Eddie Tupa’i
, President, New Zealand Pacific Union Conference of the SDA ChurchRev Setaita Taumoepeau K. Veikune
, President, Methodist Church of New ZealandPastor Adam White
, Leader, New Life ChurchesFor further contacts for this statement:Rev Dr Richard Waugh QSM
Ph 022 5339400 Email: email@example.comSenior Pastor David MacGregor
Ph 022 1572018 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If approved by a majority of voters in the coming Referendum, the End of Life Choice Act will allow eligible terminally ill people to request ‘assisted dying’, either by a doctor or nurse practitioner directly administering lethal drugs (euthanasia) or by a doctor or nurse practitioner setting them up with lethal drugs to take themselves (assisted suicide).
Many New Zealanders like the idea of euthanasia as an option for those terminally ill, and assume the End of Life Choice Act must be okay. They have thoughts like ‘I wouldn’t want to die in unbearable pain. I would like the option to die, in dignity, at the time of my own choice. It’s my own life.’ Or that euthanasia is compassionate, because they feel it could prevent suffering. Or that ‘We do it for our cats and dogs. Why not for human beings?’ These thoughts make it easier to accept the politicians’ claims that similar euthanasia legislation has ‘worked well overseas’, and that the End of Life Choice Act contains ‘rigorous safeguards’.
But here’s a dozen very serious reasons why the End of Life Choice Act is so wrong and dangerous for New Zealand, and why we need to vote AGAINST it.
- Legally and practically, New Zealanders already have a ‘right to die’. Nobody is forced to have their lives unnecessarily prolonged. People may freely decline tests, treatment, or surgery. Doctors do not continue treatment or keep life-support going, when there is no hope of recovery. People may sign a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order, and state their wishes for end-of-life care in an Advance Directive. We already have a right to as much pain relief as needed (even if this has a double effect of shortening our lives).
- In reality, very few people die in unbearable pain. Many die peacefully, or in their sleep, or having become unconscious. Modern palliative care can control most pain.
- Those final days are important. The last week or so of someone dying with a terminal illness can often be a time when both patient and family come to peace with the impending death and bereavement, and is a factor in healthy grieving. Euthanasia interrupts the natural ‘letting go’.
- New Zealanders need to realise the chilling long-term risks: we are very unwise to allow anyone (including doctors and nurse practitioners) to legally kill someone else, or to actively help them commit suicide. That is a highly dangerous line for society to cross. It is at our peril that we allow another form of killing to be introduced. It is not just that killing people is regarded by most people as ethically or culturally abhorrent, it is also a matter of safe-guarding the long-term public safety of our society.
- It makes no sense at all for society to deplore high rates of suicide, and then to legalise medically-assisted suicide. The legalisation of medical suicide will give another reason for vulnerable people to feel suicide is an acceptable option.
- Similar euthanasia legislation overseas has NOT worked well: it has led to a steady increase in inappropriate and wrongful deaths.
- The End of Life Choice Act does NOT have rigorous safeguards, and in particular does not protect against coercion. It is loose and poorly-drafted legislation, and would be one of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world. Many obvious safeguards are missing…
● Above all, there is no effective protection against people being subtly influenced by others into requesting euthanasia. Many older people are very anxious about not ‘becoming a burden’ for loved ones. They may feel obliged to sign a request for euthanasia when it is mentioned as an option by a medical professional (the Act only restricts doctors making the suggestion during appointments), or when hinted at by family eager to receive their inheritance before it is all spent on care, or when euthanasia becomes much more common.
● There is no requirement that euthanasia be a last resort, after treatment has failed.
● There is no requirement that someone first sees a palliative care specialist.
● There is no requirement that one of the doctors actually knows the patient.
● There is no mandatory psychological assessment, for instance for depression.
● There is no mandatory cooling-off period.
● There is no provision for an independent witness at any part of the process.
● There is no requirement for anyone to consult or tell their parents or children.
● There is inadequate protection for those medical staff for who object to euthanasia on ethical and conscience grounds.
● The reporting required is inadequate
- Medical diagnoses and prognoses can often be wrong. People with terminal illnesses can live much longer than expected, or recover. Under this law, some will die who would otherwise have survived.
- The majority of doctors are strongly against euthanasia: they see it as contrary to their commitment to healing and caring for patients, and want nothing to do with it. Many are also worried that euthanasia will undermine proper funding for palliative care, and that it will erode patient trust. The New Zealand Medical Association is very opposed to euthanasia.
- The inevitable expansion of this new ‘human right’.Once society crosses the key threshold of allowing doctors (on request) to actively kill people with terminal illness, within a few years Parliament will inevitably start extending this ‘right’ to other ‘unbearable’ conditions, such as disability, mental illness, depression, chronic illness, dementia, and old-age frailty. That is exactly what has happened in most overseas jurisdictions that have allowed ‘assisted dying’. Because of that, many disabled people feel very deeply concerned about the End of Life Choice Act.
- The inevitable increase of involuntary euthanasia. Once voluntary euthanasia becomes legal and common, instances of involuntary euthanasia will likewise steadily increase. The climate of thought will steadily change, and some doctors will begin quietly euthanising patients who they decide have no ‘quality of life’, and who are taking up costly space in hospitals or care facilities. They will rationalise this as compassion, and as responsible stewarding of public resources. This too has happened in a number of countries, which began with ‘assisted dying’ as in this Act.
- As euthanasia becomes normalised, society’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people are those most likely to be euthanised, in increasing numbers. Poor and vulnerable people have less access to financial reserves, to expensive treatments, and to first-rate palliative care, and may feel they have fewer options.
A statement by the New Zealand Christian Network, September 2020
I’ve received some great feedback from my last article, ‘Is the legalisation of cannabis racist?’ One reader in particular pushed back on my argument, which I have paraphrased as follows (to make good sense of this, I recommend you also re-read my article).
Thank you, Mark, for your article.
I believe you argue in good faith, but I think there is a deep flaw in your argument. Currently, cannabis IS sold in low-income neighbourhoods through gang-run tinny houses, and other places of wider criminality. No amount of policing has ever changed this. The involvement of gangs in the cannabis trade increases the likelihood that users are also turned towards other drugs, like methamphetamine. But by legalising cannabis and taking this market away from gangs, there is the potential to dramatically reduce harm in these neighbourhoods, even if legal shops move in.
Thank you for your email and counter-argument. I really appreciate it. You raise a great question. This sort of interaction helps move the discussion forward.
First, I want to acknowledge that your argument is one of the better reasons to support legalisation. I think most people can agree that it would be better to buy cannabis from a government-regulated business than from a seedy criminal organization or gang. I think we can all agree that buying from a regulated business would be better than buying from a gang.
Unfortunately, just because people would have the option to buy from a reputable business doesn’t mean that they will. It appears that in places such as the USA and Canada where cannabis has been legalised, the black-market cannabis industry continues to thrive. Why? Because it is not subject to government regulations, and thus can provide cheaper and stronger forms of cannabis. Given that other nations and states that have legalised cannabis have seen a marked increase in usage, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine there will also be an increase in people wanting stronger forms of cannabis.
Secondly, my intention in writing the article was to respond to the claims that the argument against legalisation was racist. My main argument is that legalisation, at least as it has been presented by the NZ government, is a form of racism, or at the very least classism. Your response demonstrates that legalisation could be seen as less racist than the status quo, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t racist (or classist).
Third, I haven’t made this argument before, but it is something to consider. Gangs and others who currently do profit from selling cannabis may, to make up possible loss in revenue, seek to sell an even more devastating product in higher quantities. Where are they going to sell these more devastating drugs? In the same communities that they currently sell cannabis. I very much doubt gangs are just going to lie down and let the government take all their profits. Gangs will realise they can make a whole lot more money when they don’t follow the rules.
Thank you again for your really thought-provoking argument. I still think though, that on the whole, proper, genuine decriminalisation is a better pathway forward than legalisation. Therefore, I would still encourage people to vote no in the upcoming referendum on cannabis legalisation.
There is a common accusation from those who support the legalisation of cannabis that the illegality of cannabis causes disproportionate harm to ethnic minorities. Joseph Boden, a professor in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch and who sits on the government’s Expert Panel on Cannabis asserts that “Prohibition is racist, it operates in a racist manner, and you see this everywhere and that’s one of the main reasons, to me, to get rid of it. It’s actually a tool for white people to oppress minorities. The trouble with police discretion”, he argues, “is that it then goes down to the individual officer who isn’t necessarily accountable for their motivations and may not even understand their own motivations…Māori are two and a half times more likely to be convicted for cannabis offences than non-Māori, and that’s after correcting for differences in rates of use. If you’re brown, your chances of getting leniency from police is lower.”1
In response to that, I argue that the legalisation of cannabis would in reality not benefit racial minorities, but instead cause them significant harm. How?
Ask yourself the question, if cannabis is legalised and sold, where will it be sold? Will cannabis shops pop up in the rich privileged neighbourhoods, or will they more likely be found in the most vulnerable ones?
Many people think they might vote “yes” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum, primarily because they do not want people to go to jail or get a criminal record for cannabis usage (which is of course why we should genuinely investigate decriminalising the use of cannabis, not legalising cannabis so that it can be openly manufactured, promoted and merchandised).
But if you ask those same people, “So, if we openly sell cannabis in your own neighbourhood, and at a shop just down the road, is that okay? If we locate cannabis shops where your kid passes by on the way to school, is that okay with you?” Asked that question, most people would instinctively feel “No, no, no. Let’s put cannabis shops somewhere else, not anywhere near me or my family”.
Local councils would start getting calls from constituents saying, “You know, I thought legalising cannabis was good, but they’re not going to open a store near here, are they? What can we do to stop it?” And eventually, the majority (not all) of cannabis shops would end up in those minority communities which have the least resources to fight the negative consequences of cannabis usage.
Now before you think this is just a concern of the author of this article, it is obvious that the government also knows this is true. In Sections 16 & 88 of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (Exposure Draft for Referendum Version) the government lists the criteria for the issue of a cannabis distribution licence. Here is the criteria from section 88 (expanded criteria originally set in section 16):
d) Take into account the following factors relating to the proposed location or locations of the premises:
i. the characteristics of the locality or part of the locality
ii. the locations of kindergartens, early childhood centres, schools, tertiary institutions, places of worship, parks, sports facilities, swimming pools, playgrounds, and other community facilities
iii. the cumulative effect of the presence or absence of other licensed premises in the same locality:
iv. whether the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced, to more than a minor extent, by the effects of the issue of the licence:
v. whether the amenity and good order of the locality are already so badly affected by the effects of the issue of existing licences that they would be unlikely to be reduced further (or would be likely to be reduced further to only a minor extent) by the effects of the issue of the licence but it is nevertheless desirable not to issue any further licences in the locality:
A key phrase here is in point iv, which states, “whether the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced.” With that in mind, which communities do you think are going to get the larger share of cannabis shops? Which communities’ property values are not going to be lowered much by a nearby cannabis shop? Unfortunately, it will often be communities with racial minorities who do not have the resources to fight the establishment of such a shop. And with the presence of a shop, there will be an increase in cannabis usage in the community. With that, there will be yet one more factor separating those who live in privileged areas from those who do not.
In conclusion, take a sober look at the final point (v): “whether the amenity and good order of the locality are already so badly affected by the issue of existing licences that they would be unlikely to reduced further”. To me, that is a clear acknowledgement of the damage that will be done to some communities by the legalisation of cannabis. I ask again, what communities are likely to be so badly affected by the existence of licenced cannabis locations that they are “unlikely to be reduced further”? It can only be those communities that are already disempowered in society – those racial minorities whose voices are too easily ignored and whose pain and problems are being offered the cold comfort of legalised cannabis.
For these reasons, and the reasons stated in my previous article, particularly that the government should first do a thorough, genuine, investigation into decriminalisation, we should vote “no” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum.
1 Alice Webb-Liddall, “A Compelling NZ Academic Argument to End Cannabis Prohibition – from 1975,” The Spinoff, January 21, 2020, https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/21-01-2020/this-1975-study-tells-us-about-what-we-always-knew-about-cannabis/.