New polling shows a conversion therapy ban is not a priority for Scots

25, September 2023

The Scottish Government is completely out of touch with its own voters, and the wider public, over its controversial plans to ban so-called conversion therapy, new polling has revealed. The nationwide survey, commissioned by The Christian Institute, asked 1,731 Scottish voters to select their top-four policy priorities for the year ahead out of a list of 16 options.

Just 5% of SNP voters said that a conversion therapy ban should be a priority for the Government. A view shared by the general public, who ranked it in last place. Even among the 18-24 age group, only 16% picked a ban as a top-four priority. UK-wide polling showed a similar lack of popular support for a ban, with just 4% of UK voters saying it should be a key issue for the UK Government.

The polling shows that the public is just not sold on the idea of a law that could see parents and preachers hauled through the courts over claims that their innocent conversations were really malign attempts to ‘change or suppress’ LGBT people. This will almost certainly come as a blow to activists, who’ve spent years campaigning for a ban that reaches into ordinary church life and families – demanding that even “private prayer” and “casual conversations” are within the scope

This is not the first time the Government has been out of step with public opinion. A poll conducted last year found that two-thirds of Scottish voters were opposed to the Government’s radical gender self-ID plans.

Bill delayed

The Scottish Government previously promised a consultation and then a Bill to ‘end conversion practices’ by the end of 2023. However, its Programme for Government – published a few weeks ago – now only commits to consult “by the end of this calendar year”.

It is likely the delay has been caused – at least in part – by Aidan O’Neill KC’s scathing legal opinion, which warns the Government that it would be exceeding its legislative powers if it pursues a broad ban on conversion therapy. In his 68-page opinion, O’Neill explains that such a vast new law requires the Government to interfere with powers reserved to Westminster and that it would breach no fewer than four European Convention rights. He is clear that the far-reaching conversion therapy proposals are “fundamentally illiberal”, and if adopted, would criminalise parents and preachers.

Scotland in danger of copying Victoria

Both Holyrood’s Equalities Committee and the Government’s own ‘Expert Advisory Group’ have called on the Government to model its legislation on the Australian state of Victoria, which has one of the most repressive conversion therapy bans.

Official guidance from Victoria’s equality commission explains that “not affirming someone’s gender identity” is an illegal practice. It says that a parent who refuses “to support their child’s request for” puberty blockers is also breaking the law.

But perhaps even more startling is the new guidance “for people of faith”, which tells Christians precisely how to pray and what they can and cannot teach. It says prayers “that talk about a person’s brokenness or need to repent”, or which “ask for a person to not act on their attractions”, are likely to be illegal. It says Christians can only pray in a way that affirms everyone as “perfect as they are”. This means that even praying the Lord’s Prayer with an LGBT person could be at risk of prosecution, since in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to “forgive us our sins” and “lead us not into temptation”.

The Victoria ban shows us that once legislators start down the route of conversion therapy bans, it doesn’t take long for state bodies to feel they have the right to dictate to churches their doctrine and practice.

Government “must read the room”

In light of the polling results, Let Us Pray’s Simon Calvert has called on the Scottish Government to “read the room and drop the Bill altogether”, saying:

“Gay and trans people are already protected, quite rightly, from all verbal and physical abuse by existing law.

“The kind of ban being called for would be a radical and unwelcome new departure in Scottish law, allowing bureaucrats to tell Christians exactly how to pray. It would effectively make ‘misgendering’ an offence. And it would criminalise parents who try to prevent their children being prescribed puberty blockers.”

Politicians may want this Bill but the public certainly don’t. It’s time the Government started listening to the electorate and stopped kowtowing to activists with repressive agendas.

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