Conversion practices will be banned in New Zealand, after the bill’s third reading passed in Parliament on Tuesday evening.
by Irra Lee and Anna Whyte
Labour, the Green Party, ACT, Te Pāti Māori and 25 National MPs voted in favour, while eight National MPs, Simon Bridges, Simeon Brown, Melissa Lee, Todd McClay, Simon O’Connor, Chris Penk. Shane Reti and Michael Woodhouse, voted against it.
MPs clapped when the bill was passed.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson opened the debate of the third reading on Tuesday – a position usually held by the person who introduced the bill – instead of Justice Minister Kris Faafoi.
“I grew up in a religious church-going household in the era of homosexual law reform,” Robertson said, recalling coming out to accepting parents. “But not everybody is, or was, so lucky. The other group that needs to be acknowledged from the outset are those from our Rainbow communities who did not make it.”
Robertson remembered a former work colleague named James – the “sweetest and most gentle man who you would ever meet”. He was brought up in the same church as Robertson and when he told his parents, he was met with anger and rejection.
“It was intolerable for him," Robertson said. "He took his own life at the age of 23."
"To James and to many like him from all parts of the Rainbow communities, and also to those who have been directly affected by conversion practices or attempts at them, we want to say this legislation is for you.
“We cannot bring you back. We cannot undo all of the hurt. But, we can make sure that for the generations to come, we provide the support and love that you did not get and that we protect you from the harm of those who seek to try to stop you from being who you are. We will never forget you.”
Labour’s Ayesha Verrall said conversion practices told people they should be ashamed of who they were.
“I want to acknowledge the survivors of conversion therapy who submitted on the bill and their courage for doing so,” Verrall said.
“So many of us have our own stories of stigma, hate, or rejection to share. In so many instances, we respond with dignity, love, and pride.”
National’s Paul Goldsmith said he personally supported the bill, but said during the process there was "some concern about the way this particular bill has been drafted and serious issues around the extent of what is captured by a ‘conversion practice’".
“What we’re dealing in Parliament is not what our intentions are that we want to just stop a particular practice, it’s what the piece of legislation in front of us actually achieves.”
Goldsmith said he raised issues about whether the bill would end up inhibiting the discussions people could have, and said Justice Minister Kris Faafoi had given his assurance those areas wouldn’t be covered.
Faafoi had said there were protections in place to make sure “open and respectful” conversations could still take place in households, while covering parents who did take active steps to suppress or change their child’s identity.
MP Elizabeth Kerekere said the Green Party was celebrating this evening.
“Today is an historic day in Aotearoa. It is the day where the decades of trauma experienced by Rainbow communities is recognised, and our right to exist free from torture, coercion and suppression is cemented in law.
She said laws weren’t the “be all and end all”, and Tuesday’s bill was a “stake in the ground”.
Kerekere added the bill could be amended and “one day, we probably will”.
Faafoi said the passing of the bill "with near-unanimous voting, we’ll be able to send a really clear message to New Zealand that the New Zealand that we live in today is a place where no sexual orientation or gender identity is broken or needs to be fixed".
ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden acknowledged the people with first-hand experience of conversion practices who spoke about the bill to the Justice Select Committee.
“I really cannot even express how that must feel. It is extremely brave.”
She said there was criticism that the bill either didn’t go far enough, and also that it went too far.
“I want to acknowledge there are valid views on both sides from people who are just expressing their genuinely-held beliefs.”
The bill would still need to be signed off by the Governor-General for Royal Assent. It would come into force six months later. It could see someone imprisoned for up to three years in jail for performing conversion therapy on someone under 18 and up to five years where it has caused serious harm, irrespective of age. The Attorney-General needed to give consent for those prosecutions.
Shaneel Lal, leader of End Conversion Therapy NZ, said the bill’s passing wasn’t just a win for the Rainbow community, but “a win for humanity”.
“This is something that’s very personal to me as well. When I was a young child, my community was given the choice of picking between their church and their child. I wish that they saw the broken heart of the child and picked me.”
When Lal was volunteering at Middlemore hospital at 17, they said they were approached by a church leader who offered to “pray [the] gay away”. When Lal refused, they said the church leader told them they would end up in hell.
“At 17, the idea of going to hell scared me. At 22, it makes perfect sense with my fantasy. If all queer people are going to hell, that’s where I want to be.”
Lal said they were proud that Parliament had passed the bill. But, they said there were improvements that were needed because it didn’t yet protect all Rainbow communities.
They said the bill just laid the foundations for further change.
Auckland Pride executive director Max Tweedie told 1News the legislation meant a lot.
“I think the bill fundamentally speaks to the core of what it is to be queer, what it is to be trans, because ‘conversion therapy’ fundamentally tries to change people for who they are.
“So, the bill passing tonight means Parliament is sending a clear message… that, actually, who queer and trans people are, who they say they are is who they are, and it could not and should not be changed.”
Sexual orientation and gender conversion therapy was highlighted in 2018 after TVNZ's Sunday investigated therapy offering to "cure" people. It revealed that conversion therapy in New Zealand was readily available.
Labour MP Marja Lubeck then introduced a Member's bill in 2018 , after a 20,000-strong petition led by the Green and Labour youth wings was delivered to Parliament. It was never pulled from the ballot.
On Tuesday night, she told 1News she kept the petition on her desk for over three years.
"I would look at it because for me it was a beacon hope. A sign to just keep going and we'll get there."
Last year, the Green Party, fed up with the time it was taking the Government to ban conversion therapy, launched a petition for priority to be placed on outlawing the practice.
It received more than 157,000 signatures. Faafoi said at the time the Government was aiming to have it banned by February 2022.
The first reading of the proposed law to ban conversion therapy passed in August.
The bill passed its second reading last week, with all but seven MPs in support. Michael Woodhouse, Louise Upston, Shane Reti, Simon O’Connor, Melissa Lee, Simeon Brown and Simon Bridges voted against the bill. MP Louise Upston changed her vote to ‘yes’ in the third reading, while Todd McClay and Chris Penk changed their vote to ‘no’.