Northern Ireland Assembly votes to ban LGBTQ+ conversion therapy

It has become the first place in the UK to do so

The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted to abolish LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, making it the first place in the UK to do so.

The bill was presented by UUP MLAs, Doug Beattie and John Stewart who has been a keen advocates for LGBTQ+ rights throughout their careers in politics.

The move to scrap conversion therapy comes after a heated campaign from the Northern Ireland branch of the Ban Conversion Therapy lobbying organisation.

Controversy in the chambers also came around following a proposed DUP amendment from Robin Newton and Pam Cameron, which argued that whilst abusive conversion therapy should be banned, religious pastoral support and prayer for a worshipper who identifies as LGBTQ+ should not be banned.

The amendment was lambasted by SDLP MLA, Cara Hunter who made the case that “the people of the LGBT+ community do not need our prayers, they need respect and our support”.

Further cross-party criticism of the amendment came from Andrew Muir, an Alliance MLA for North Down and the second openly LGBTQ+ MLA in Stormont. Mr Muir said: “All this amendment does is harm. The DUP needs to recognise that they are on the wrong side of history on this.” The amendment was voted down 59-29 votes.

An emotional debate took place on the issue yesterday in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which ended with 59 MLAs voting in favour of the scrap but 24 voting against, the latter of which being DUP MLAs with exception of five abstentions including First Minister Arlene Foster, and the one TUV member, Jim Allister.

In the chamber, Doug Beattie argued that the practice of conversion therapy was both “ludicrous” and “humiliating” to LGBTQ+ people. He also stated: “There is no therapy that would make me a gay man. So why would we say that a gay man can be fixed or cured?”

Other members who took to the chamber to speak included South Down MLA, Sinéad Ennis. Ms. Ennis who represents Sinn Féin said: “There is no cure required for being yourself, and you do not need to be fixed, because you are not broken.”

The introduction of LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland has been an uphill battle for many activists. While it became the first to introduce same-sex civil partnerships in 2004, full marriage equality was not recognised until introduction from Westminster in 2019, following a three year period of collapsed government in Northern Ireland.

However, with Northern Ireland now becoming the first part of the UK to introduce a ban on conversion therapy, further pressure is being applied for the same to be done across the rest of the UK too.

Responding to the move in Northern Ireland, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon said that if the UK government did not act promptly on this, the Scottish government at Holyrood would, just like the Northern Ireland Assembly. Also supporting this was co-leader of the Scottish Green’s Lorna Slater. 

The criticism comes following previous commitments from the Conservatives to ban conversion therapy across the UK, however, no substantiative action is yet to be taken from Minister Truss.

Taking to social media to celebrate the victory for the LGBTQ+ community, the Ban Conversion Therapy NI page thanked those who supported the campaign and invited them to continue following the campaign for different ways to continue to lobby to politicians.

The vote now means that Sinn Féin Communities Minister and South Belfast MLA, Deirdre Hargey must publish legislation to ban conversion therapy in light of the resounding majority who voted in favour of its abolition.

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