Switzerland debates ban on “conversion therapies”

The Swiss Evangelical Alliance regrets “grievous mistakes in the past” but opposes a law that could limit the freedom of people to seek help according their religious convictions.

Evangelical Focus

BERN · 28 JANUARY 2022 · 16:00 CET

A LGBT flag in Geneva, Switzerland. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="https://unsplash.com/@dels">D. Giandeni</a>,
A LGBT flag in Geneva, Switzerland. / Photo: D. Giandeni

A ban on so-called conversion therapies is the newest socio-political debate in Switzerland that could restrict the activities of Christian churches.

After the September 2021 referendum that legalised gay marriage, including the adoption of children and sperm donation for lesbian couples, now national parliamentarians are ready to discuss another law to protect the LGBT community.

The central European country follows the steps of other European countries such as the United Kingdom, where the government just closed a public consultation on the issue, Spain, and France, where a law with fines of up to 30,000 euros and two years in jail has just been passed.

In Switzerland, the Canton of Basel has been the first region to ban “conversion therapies”, lifting the debate to a national scale. So far, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Social Democrats have already expressed their support to such a law, which could affect how churches with a historic Christian understanding of sexuality offer support to same-sex attracted people.


Evangelicals: Ban would harm personal freedom of people

This warning has been raised by the Swiss Evangelical Alliance (SEA-RES), which has said it “opposes” and “distances itself” from “practices that explicitly aim to change a person’s sexual orientation”, adding that in some Christian contexts, there were “grievous mistakes in the past, which we regret”.

“Nevertheless, there are people who experience their homosexual or bisexual orientation as conflictual and therefore seek professional support”, says the Alliance. This includes, among others, young people experiencing “temporal homoerotic phases” which usually come to an end when the person reaches his or her sexual maturity.

Anyone should be able to voluntarily seek for “pastoral counselling, pastoral care, education and discussions” that are offered by churches and other Christian organisations, says the Swiss evangelical body. “A ban on ‘conversion therapies’ threatens to place these helpful services under general suspicion and thus prevent people with a legitimate need from receiving valuable help”.

The “right to self-determination must be respected” for every citizen, says the SEA. In regards to the issue at stake, “this means their freedom to seek guidance in matters of sexual identity and practice in accordance with their religious convictions”.

The SEA also argues that there are already professional ethical guidelines produced by official psychological associations which sanction misconduct, and therefore an additional law woul not be needed.

The Evangelical Alliance “is committed to ensuring that Christian pastoral care and accompaniment of homosexual persons does not promote unrealistic and inflated expectations, respects the professional boundaries and mandates, always respects the will of the person being accompanied and their dignity, and protects their physical and mental health”.


Programme in the public television

This week, the Swiss public broadcaster SRF-SRG addressed the issue on its prime time analysis programme Rundschau, under the provocative title “Praying homosexuality away”. The host, Dominik Meier, focused on the cases of homosexual people who had been “raised in religious communities that later in life seek help to ‘be made normal’ again”, he said, referring to Christians who struggle with their sexual orientation.

The show sent a reporter with a hidden camera to two therapists and a Salvation Army pastor, all of which offered support to change one’s homosexual orientations. The lengthy report also included the critical views of psychology researchers and a former member of a free church who used to struggle with his homosexuality but now coaches others in coming out as gay.

Switzerland debates ban on “conversion therapies”

Marc Jost of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance (left), in the interview with the public television. / Photo: Schweizer Fernsehen, video frame.

Marc Jost, Secretary General of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, was interviewed live in the tv studio after the airing of the report. Answering to strongly worded questions of the host, Jost underlined the work of the Alliance in the last years in a good practices document on the issue. But he also warned about the risk of lack of clarity in a potential law on this issue. A not clearly framed ban could have the side effect of church members fearing that any kind of teaching on homosexuality from a Christian perspective could be criminalised, he said.   

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