Former DUP minister Jim Wells doesn’t want conversion therapy to be banned in Northern Ireland in case he “struggles with same-sex attraction” and needs his pastor.
Stormont MLAs were debating a motion put forward by Doug Beattie and John Stewart which aims to recognise the damage conversion therapies cause to “the mental health of those who are subjected to it.”
Opening his address, Wells – who lost the DUP party whip in 2018 – claimed LGBT+ activists are seeking “a complete ban on all interventions by pastors, priests and ministers on this issue.”
He continued: “I’m a married man of 38 years, I have three children. If I was in a situation where I started to struggle with same-sex attraction – which I’m not, by the way – and I went to my pastor seeking spiritual guidance on that, this motion and the campaign would mean that the only thing he could do was to approve of my lifestyle choice, commend it and wish me all the best.”
Wells went on to suggest that priests, pastors and ministers could be reported to police for stating church teachings on sexuality under a conversion therapy ban.
“Is Mr Beattie or Mr Stewart in the position of wanting to put pastors, priests and ministers into the dock? If not, then they should not be supporting this motion,” he said.
Jim Well continued: “When people talk about conversion therapy they talk about physically and sexually abusive practices that are appalling, and we all oppose them, there’s no difficulty whatsoever with that. But they also talk of innocent behaviour such as people praying or asking for prayer, and remember we’re not talking about coercion here – we’re talking about adults who perceive that they have a problem going to their spiritual advisor and seeking prayer and counselling.”
He went on to suggest that Beattie and Stewart want to ban “conservative religious practices” entirely, claiming a ban on conversion therapy in religious settings would “outlaw the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of people” in Northern Ireland.
“Normal, everyday Christian practices and beliefs are being compared to bogus therapy and even rape, and that’s considered merely semantics. I am not sure I have strong enough words to condemn that slur,” Wells said.
The former health minister went on to claim that LGBT+ people are being told it’s a form of abuse if somebody prays for them.
“You’re being told that the entire religion of hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland is so toxic it should be outlawed. That is incredibly dangerous language.”
DUP condemned for ‘retraumatising’ the entire LGBT+ community
MLAs from across the political spectrum spoke at the debate, with every political party bar the DUP supporting the motion as it stands and throwing their support behind a full ban on conversion therapy.
Andrew Muir, an Alliance Party MLA who is also openly gay, hit out at the DUP for an amendment it proposed to the motion last week. This would have removed a section which reads: “It is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”. Muir said the DUP’s amendment had “retraumatised” the LGBT+ community.
Elsewhere, SDLP MLA Cara Hunter said the DUP’s amendment was “insulting”, telling the political party: “Get real.”
She said the motion was “not about criminalising prayer”, but was about limiting harm to the LGBT+ community.
“Haven’t the LGBT community been through enough?” Hunter asked, referencing the long delay on same-sex marriage legislation in Northern Ireland that pushed equality down the road for years after it was legalised in the rest of the UK.
LGBT+ activists in Northern Ireland have expressed dismay at Wells’ comments, which came at the tail end of a debate that saw broad, cross-party support for a full ban on conversion therapy.
The debate comes just months after ministers in Northern Ireland first committed to outlawing the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, which has been condemned by almost every major psychiatric body.
The Department of Communities is currently drafting a sexual orientation strategy, due for publication by the end of December, which is expected to lay out legislative plans.