Norway consults population about banning gay conversion therapy
In Norway, Christians are studying the proposed ban on gay and gender conversion therapy. The government has put forward this to consultation. A decision will not come before October, after the general elections on September 13th.
The minister mainly responsible for the plan is Abid Raja, Minister for Culture and Gender Equality.
A majority of the Storting, the Norwegian parliament, wants an explicit ban on conversion therapy. But according to Dagen, the Liberal minister has said that "an absolute ban on conversion therapy" would be against human rights. That makes it at the start of the process difficult for everybody what exactly is the intention. The deadline for the consultation is October 15th.
The proposal is about an absolute ban on conversion therapy for children below 16 years. This might be changed into 18 years. For adults, the situation is different: there will be a ban for "unnecessary pressure" for therapy. If they are informed correctly, there will be no barrier for them, according to Vartland.
There is no precise definition
Conversion therapy is treatment aimed at getting someone else to change or deny his or her sexual orientation. An exact definition doesn't exist. Therefore, the government admits that "it will be sometimes difficult to determine where the boundaries should be between what is allowed and what is not."
The consultation paper states that any ban should not prejudice "conversations about someone's life situation, including that someone is struggling with his or her sexual orientation or gender identity".
The paper even says that "propagating the belief that a change in sexual orientation is possible cannot be prohibited either."
Aware of the religious freedom
Many Christian churches focused on the heterosexual model are concerned about what will happen if this proposal becomes law.
The Christian Democratic Party (KrF) will not agree with a proposal that "might curtail the religious freedom", minister for Children and Families Kjell Ingolf Ropstad says. He is also the party leader of the KrF, which is a partner in the government coalition. He told Dagen that for his party, it was essential to come with a proposal that "protects the most vulnerable whilst safeguarding the freedom of religion."
According to Ropstad, it will still be possible to preach your vision about sexuality and living together. Also, conversation groups to help each other or talk with individuals are not seen as conversion therapy.
Another topic is marketing for therapy abroad. "Therefore, we find it important how this ban will be defined", says Ropstad. "It could be so that people are so scary to break the law that this law is limiting the freedom of religion."
On the other hand, the law has to "protect children against harmful acts and in the worst-case abuse."
Important to all this is that there will follow a public hearing in the parliament, Ropstad says.
According to Vartland, the party has tried hard to block this proposal or to postpone it until after the elections. The work on the consultation paper had started in late 2019 already.
Left-wing not happy
The left-wing parties, like the Socialists and Labour, are disappointed that the government has chosen 16 as the limit, according to Dagen. "This is no ban", Freddy André Øvstegård (Socialist Left, SV) says.
Anette Trettebergstuen (Labour, Ap) was “surprised”, she says. "We have been calling for this a year and a half. Then the government forbids therapy for children only. In practice, this will be a stamp of approval for a lot of this nonsense to adults above 16 or 18."
Ban could be slippery slope
Dagen publishes reactions from two Christian organisations that coach young people with struggles about sexual identity. Til Helhet (contact platform for sexuality and the Christian faith) Ole Gramstad Jensen is quite happy after reading the consultation paper. His work is not in danger, he says in Dagen. In their organisation, they never work with minors. On the other hand, he is still afraid of after-effects. This is a "slippery slope", and the LGBT movement will use that for a next cross point on which "intercession will be made punishable."
"Strictly speaking, in Christian circles in Norway, there is no conversion therapy"
Also, Espen Ottosen from the Norwegian Lutheran Mission is not very concerned with the proposals. "A lot has to happen before intercession or pastoral care is seen as treatment." On the other hand, it will be lawyers who must interpret the rules. "For pastors that creates an unpredictable situation to choose their words with care."
In Vartland Ottosen adds that strictly spoken among Christians in Norway, there is no conversion therapy. But if the broader definition is used, "it will be forbidden to discourage a homosexual from stepping into a same-sex relationship." "With such a broad definition, all conservative Christians will be hit by the ban. It will have consequences for all Christians who preach that marriage is a relation of a man and a woman."