A few days ago, the Justice Committee issued its report on the Bill. The Committee received 107,000 public submissions, and (putting aside ‘form’ letters) it considered 38,900 of those. It heard 3,400 oral submissions!
Sadly, the Committee rejected the concerns of those tens of thousands of submitters who feel the Bill as currently worded is ideologically one-sided, unclear, and a serious potential threat to the rights and responsibilities of parents, the right to free conversations, and the right of people to seek the advice and support they want.
Let us be very clear: the New Zealand Christian Network agrees with the Bill that New Zealand law should affirm ‘the dignity of all people’ and uphold the ‘rights of all New Zealanders’ including rainbow people ‘to live free from discrimination and harm’. NZCN is opposed to any pastoral or counselling practice that is uninvited, coercive, unloving, or demeaning, and accepts in principle the two stated purposes of the Bill, i.e. (1) to ‘prevent harm caused by conversion practices’, and (2) to promote ‘respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender’.
We don’t agree with the Bill’s ideological assumptions that gender identity is completely changeable, while sexual orientation is completely unchangeable. In our observation, some people do change, and change can be in any direction. We believe everyone should be free to seek whatever help or moral support they feel they may need.
Our key concern is that as currently worded the Bill does not distinguish between ‘harmful’ conversion practices and appropriate, open-ended and respectful conversation, counselling, and pastoral support. Because of that, we believe the Bill does not advance its second stated purpose, the promotion of ‘respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender’, and would instead significantly inhibit free discussion on sexuality and gender, across society. Parents, for instance, may fear that they could be criminalised for advising a child not to take puberty blockers, a counsellor may be unwilling to help some who ask for help, and anyone may be reluctant to give advice or prayer to those who seek it. All of this compromises a number of human rights set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights.
NZCN has thus proposed that the Bill be amended with an additional clause in Section 5 (2), that:
[in this Act, conversion practice does not include— ]
(g) respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender, and advice, guidance, prayer, or support given to anyone by anyone else including parents, family members, friends, counsellors, religious leaders, or health professionals, when such advice or support is requested, and is respectful and non-coercive.
We believe that this one extra clause, or something similar, would greatly reinforce the Bill’s second stated purpose, (‘respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender’), and would protect open discussion in every context, providing it was respectful and non-coercive. This short amendment, just 44 words, would address the majority of concerns which many people have expressed about the Bill. Good legislation spells things out clearly, and thus gains widespread support.
We strongly deplore the fact that a sensitive and complex moral matter such as this is being pushed through as a Government/party political measure, and that many MPs will not be allowed to vote according to their own conscience.
While many Christians may disagree with ACT on some matters, ACT has strongly and insightfully critiqued this Bill, and declares that the Bill fails to achieve the balance that is required.
We urge New Zealand Christians to be much in prayer about this matter, especially for those courageous few MPs who will speak out and seek to have the Bill amended so it is more fit for purpose, and less dangerous to several important liberties.
It would also be appropriate to communicate your concerns to some MPs.