A conversion ban in Norway, what does that mean?

06-12-2023

Northern Europe

Joe-Lize Kruijsse-Brugge, CNE.news

General view of the Norwegian Parliament called 'Storting' in Oslo, Norway. Photo EPA, Sigurdsoen Bjoern

The Norwegian Storting will look at a draft for what is known as a ban on conversion therapy. What are the consequences?

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy is aimed at changing one's sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a recent report from the Nordlandforskning (Nordland Research Institute) and Bufdir (Directorate for Children, Youth, and Families), one in four LGBT people is confronted with such attempts. Conversion therapy can include extreme measures, such as corrective rape, electronic shocks and exorcisms. However, in a more broad definition, pastoral conversations about one's sexual identity may also be considered conversion therapy.

Where does this debate come from in Norway?

In 2019, Culture and Equality Minister Trine Skey Grande took the initiative for a legal ban on conversion therapy.

In 2020, UN official Victor Madrigal-Borloz called on all countries in the world to implement bans on conversion therapy. That was the reason for Anette Trettebergstuen (later Minister of Education) to ask the Norwegian authorities to make haste with implementing such legislation, Vart Land reported at the time.

In 2021, these plans took on a more solid form. That year, the Culture and Equality Minister at the time, Abid Raja from the Venstre Party, presented a bill that made conversion therapy illegal.

The bill included a broad definition of conversion therapy and forbade all forms of treatment that aim to change the orientation of sexuality. For children under 16, conversion therapy was to be illegal at all times. Adults could only legally undergo one when they had explicitly given informed consent. Also, prayer, intersession and pastoral help were included in the definition "if they were done in a way that has a treatment-like feel", Vart Land explained.

However, the elections later in 2021 put an end to Raja's mandate. He was succeeded by Anette Trettebergstuen, who criticised the conversion bill for being too mild as it allowed conversion therapy for consenting adults and did not forbid advertising for the practice.

In 2022, Trettebergstuen put forward a new proposal that also criminalised the above-mentioned practices.

Even though Trettebergstuen resigned early as a Minister of Culture and Equality because of an integrity issue, her successor, Minister Lubna Jaffery, supported her work for a ban on conversion therapy. She called it a "good and important bill", CNE reported.

This is also the bill that will be considered by the Storting on December 7.

What does this ban mean for Christian communities with a traditional view on marriage?

Especially Christians with a traditional view on marriage and sexuality are worried about the potential ban on conversion therapy. They are afraid that they are no longer allowed to voice the view that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that homosexuality is sinful.

Trettebergstuen pointed out at the time that Christians are still allowed to preach that homosexuality is sinful, CNE reported earlier. However, she added that this does not fall under voluntarily chosen conversion therapy.

Christians should, therefore, be careful with such practices because the Minister concluded that pastoral conversations can be considered conversion therapy when they "methodologically and repeatedly aim to convert a person willingly and knowingly."

A group of 19 prominent Christians from Norway wrote an emergency letter in Vart Land, pointing out that a strict ban on conversion therapy shows that "the government is willing to sacrifice a group's fundamental freedom of belief and expression by the threat of prosecution and punishment to protect another group of people's views and practices regarding gender and cohabitation."

The authors of the opinion article argue that a conversion ban leads to uncertainty about whether they can, for example, freely quote the Bible and live their lives according to Biblical guidelines or pray out loud for someone who "wants to live in conformity with the norms of the Bible."

A Norwegian lawyers association also reassures Christians that they will be allowed to speak out freely under the conversion ban, CNE wrote. The lawyers point out that the latest draft reads that conversion therapy is punishable when someone "offends another by using methods to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity." The lawyers argue that pastoral conversations are never meant "to oppress, pressure, torment or offend people". Furthermore, this is already forbidden by current legislation.

To what extent is this an issue in other countries?

Conversion therapy is not only a debate that occurs in Norway. Germany, Spain and France, for example, have already implemented a ban on the practice. In the Netherlands, a proposal was tabled. The discussion also plays in Switzerland, Poland, and Belgium, among others.

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