The Greens say their petition to ban conversion therapy has forced the Government into action, and they're promising to strongly reject any religious exemptions.
Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere launched a petition at Auckland's Big Gay Out a week ago to ban conversion therapy - gaining 158,300 signatures - and it was tabled at Parliament on Tuesday.
The petition was tabled despite Justice Minister Kris Faafoi on Monday reaffirming the Government's commitment to banning the practice by this time next year.
"The Government has work underway to develop policy which will bring legislation to Parliament by the middle of this year and with the aim of having a ban passed into law by the end of this year, or by February 2022 - at the latest," Faafoi said on Monday.
"There is no therapeutic purpose or medical basis for these conversion practices, which can cause real and lasting damage, particularly for vulnerable young people who are often the victims of these practices."
Dr Kerekere said on Tuesday the Government was forced to provide an update on its plans to ban conversion therapy because of the Green Party's petition.
"I think they have acted seeing the petition coming and said 'okay let's get in front of that, let's be part of the party' that's happening," she said.
"They didn't have it on the legislative programme... absolutely the Government has to work on a tonne of things, but until it's on the table, no law change is going to happen."
Labour promised to ban conversion therapy during the election campaign.
Faafoi said the Government's reaffirmation to ban the practice in this term of Parliament "clearly shows the level of priority it has in our legislative programme" and "shows our commitment to ban these cruel and damaging practices that can amount to coercion and mental abuse".
Faafoi confirmed that the Ministry of Justice is working to draw up law which will create a new criminal or civil offence prohibiting conversion practices.
The Ministry of Justice still needs to define 'conversion practices', work out whether conversion practices should be regulated by civil law in addition to criminal law, and where civil penalties might be more appropriate than criminal liability.
Faafoi said the Government also needs to look into how legal protections would work and for whom. The Greens are vehemently against any protections for religious groups.
"We need to ensure from the beginning that we're very clear there can be no religious exemptions and we have to include all parts of our rainbow community," Dr Kerekere said.
"I refute any assertion that this is a free speech matter. Free speech should never be used as an excuse for allowing people to cause harm and this is all that's happening here."
Shaneel Lal, co-founder of End Conversion Therapy in NZ, spoke at the tabling of the petition about his own experience with being approached to undergo conversion therapy.
"In the summer of 2017 I was volunteering at the Middlemore Hospital reception and a church leader came up to me and offered to pray my gay away and I said no. In response he said 'I know it's hard but what's harder? Hell'. So, he was offering to pray my gay away and when I rejected he was very offended."
In 2019 as a Youth MP, Lal delivered a speech in Parliament calling on the Government to ban conversion therapy. His speech resonated online, but also exposed a racist, homophobic underbelly.
"In 2019, I was here telling the Government to act," Lal said. "But it's 2021 and it is still legal to erase queer identity in the name of conversion therapy because our Government has failed to act. It is a shame and we shouldn't be proud that it's going to take us another year to get rid of this practice."
Dr Kerekere said she has not had any promises from the Government that religious groups will not be exempt from the ban, because it's not part of Labour's cooperation agreement with the Greens. But she promises to push the Government on it.
"There's no point doing it if we have religious exemptions."
Faafoi said he welcomes that both the Greens and National share the Government's position against conversion practices. He said the Government hopes to work constructively with them to get it done.
The Greens have already accused Labour of dragging the chain on the so-called therapy, which attempts to suppress or change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
It has been banned in the likes of Germany, Ecuador, Brazil and a number of other territories. The Australian state of Victoria was the most recent to ban it.
Conservative community group Family First argues that banning conversion therapy is an "attack on parent's rights" and "merely encourages gender-confused children".