Up to five years in prison for conversion practices under new law

Performing conversion practices intended to change or suppress someone's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, could end in a five year prison sentence under a new law change. 

Under the law change, announced by Justice Minister Kris Faafoi on Friday, conversion practices are defined as having the intention of changing or suppressing a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

However, general expressions of religious beliefs or principles about sexuality and gender will also not be captured under the law change.

"Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand," Faafoi said. "They are based on the false belief that any person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is broken and in need of fixing."

The legislation creates two new criminal offences where there is either a heightened risk of harm – as in the case of conversion practices performed on people under the age of 18 or people with impaired decision-making capacity – or where it can be demonstrated that a person has suffered.

The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill will make it an offence to perform conversion practices on anyone – irrespective of age – where serious harm has been caused, and this will carry up to five years behind bars.

Performing conversion practices on a child or young person aged under 18, or on someone with impaired decision-making capacity, could result in a three year prison sentence.

Faafoi says these criminal offences are intended to capture particularly serious cases and to send a clear message that conversion practices are unacceptable and should not be occurring in New Zealand.

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) will also play a role in helping to resolve complaints. Where a complaint cannot be resolved using the HRC's services, a claim can be taken to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. 

The Tribunal will be able to grant a range of solutions, such as a declaration that a wrong has occurred, an order restraining a person or organisation from continuing to perform conversion practices, or an award of damages.

The Human Rights Commission will also play a role in providing education about conversion practices and the new law change, and in making survivors aware of how to access the support that they may need.

The ban has been welcomed by the Māori Party and the Greens, and National leader Judith Collins has previously expressed support after researching it. However, National MP Simon Bridges has described the ban as an attack on free speech

"Our Rainbow whānau told the Government that conversion therapy is a crime, and needs to be treated as such, and the Government has listened," said Green Party spokesperson for for rainbow communities, Dr Elizabeth Kerekere.

"Aotearoa New Zealand showed how strongly they care about banning conversion therapy when 157,764 people signed our petition calling on the Government to urgently address this traumatic, unethical and harmful practice."

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer blamed colonisation for negative sentiment towards LGBTQI+ people in New Zealand. 

"It was colonisation that started criminalising and oppressing people for being who they are, turning us against our own whānau," she said. 

"Banning conversion therapy is a necessary step in addressing the larger issue of the dire state of our mental health system in Aotearoa."