Churches, LGBTI Christians urge crackdown on 'conversion' therapy
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Churches, LGBTI Christians urge crackdown on 'conversion' therapy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he has no desire to get involved in a debate on gay 'conversion' therapy, declaring it is not an issue for him and that people should "make their own choices about their own lives".

Mr Morrison's comments came after churches, health experts and Amnesty International threw their weight behind calls for a national inquiry into the matter, warning Australia's new Pentecostal Prime Minister that such practices can be fatal for LGBTI Christians.

With a federal election on the horizon, a coalition of survivors, pastors and community advocates have also called for greater powers for health and consumer watchdogs, tougher regulations for counsellors, and a public health and awareness campaign.

LGBTI Christians are urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help tackle gay 'conversion' therapy

LGBTI Christians are urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help tackle gay 'conversion' therapy

Photo: AP

The calls were made in a 43,000-strong petition sent to Mr Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten over the weekend.

However, when 3AW's Neil Mitchell asked Mr Morrison about that matter on Monday, the Prime Minister replied: "It's not an issue I'm focused on at all."

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"I think people should make their own choices about their own lives," Mr Morrison said.

"I've never been involved in anything like that, I've never supported anything like that. It's just not an issue for me, and I'm not planning to get engaged in the issue. People should abide by the law and people should respect everybody else's choices, faiths, sexuality, and lifestyle."

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Gay conversion therapy is an umbrella term given to any attempt to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. It can take many forms, including counselling, pastoral care, prayers and exorcisms, support groups, conferences, and online courses.

But while the notion that homosexuality can be “cured” has been discredited globally, a Fairfax Media investigation revealed this year that conversion practices and ideology is still a mission for some groups, many of which are faith-based.

Based partly on the notion that being gay is a form of "brokenness", it has also led to some LGBTI Christians taking their own life when attempts to change their sexuality have failed.

The survivor-led petition and statement sent to Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten over the weekend warned that victims “have endured and survived a system which dehumanised and shamed them, despite their sense of deep devotion and connection to their faith community''.

“Specifically, there is a need for our elected representatives to play their part in openly challenging the deadly ideology that has been allowed to proliferate in Australia’s diverse religious community,” the statement says.

Mr Morrison is an Evangelical Christian who voted against marriage equality and champions religious freedom. However, Chris Csabs, a gay Christian who underwent conversion therapy at 19, told Fairfax Media: “He should care because the ‘gay conversion’ movement is harmful. It is killing people - and there is nothing Christian about that.”

The petition and statement was prepared by Mr Csabs along with advocacy groups such as the Brave Network, which supports LGBTI people of faith.

Chris Csabs underwent gay conversion therapy with Living Waters Ministry at 19. He is now part of a push for federal reform.

Chris Csabs underwent gay conversion therapy with Living Waters Ministry at 19. He is now part of a push for federal reform.

Photo: Supplied

Signatories include Amnesty International, Pastor Rebecca Bauer from the Melbourne Inclusive Church; Reverend Dr Robyn Whitaker from the University of Divinity; former Australian Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps; Activate Church in South Australia; and Victorian Young Australian of the Year recipients Jason Ball and Georgie Stone.

It comes after a national survey found that banning gay conversion therapy topped a list of priorities for the LGBTI community ahead of the federal election.

With the poll only a few months away, Federal Labor has already signalled it would crack down on the issue if it wins government, and the Greens have long been in favour of reform.

In Victoria, the Andrews government has also commissioned the Health Complaints Commissioner to do a state-wide inquiry, in a bid to weed out and potentially prosecute perpetrators.

However, the Coalition has made no such commitments, with last month’s leadership coup against Malcolm Turnbull the latest sign of the deep divide between moderate and conservative forces within the government.

If you are troubled by this report, experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636

Farrah Tomazin is an Investigative Reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.