Following the example of their northwestern neighbor, St. Albert, the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta, is taking steps to ban the practice of conversion therapy.
Predictably, some Edmonton faith groups are claiming that the ban will infringe upon their freedom to practice their religion.
The Edmonton City Council listened to testimony on Tuesday both for and against the ban. One group, Faith Beyond Belief, also outlined their position in a lengthy blog post:
A conversion therapy ban would unduly target people of faith who view marriage between a husband and wife as the only acceptable place for sexual activity… If “praying the gay away” is considered a harmful practice akin to shock therapy, as some activists claim, then any prayer against homosexuality could potentially be seen as violating the bylaw. Edmonton’s municipal government would have to regulate the practices of religious Canadians in order to enforce the bylaw, something the Canadian Charter specifically forbids.
A moment’s thought would make it obvious that no municipal government is going to enforce laws against individual prayers, no matter how spitefully offered. The by-law is about regulating the licensing, promotion, and practice of “pray the gay away” as a therapeutic methodology, often motivated primarily by a practitioner’s religious objections to sexual and gender diversity.
Of course, acknowledging that would interfere with the tidy victim narrative Alberta’s religious groups are advancing to justify subjecting LGBTQ individuals — often children or young people — to a practice that has been debunked by the Canadian Psychological Association as ineffective and abusive.
Ultimately, the Council voted unanimously for a motion to craft an anti-conversion-therapy by-law. A formal rule will be drafted and brought before the Council before year’s end. Mayor Don Iveson, who brought forth the motion, acknowledged the opposing viewpoints but said he didn’t accept the arguments they advanced:
We did hear certainly a clash of values today, but not, in my mind, a clash of rights. I think there is a fundamental right for Edmontonians — for Canadians — to not be subjected to any form of psychological abuse. It’s a violence.
Why is conversion therapy such a hot-button issue in Alberta right now? Dr. Kristopher Wells, who holds the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University, has a theory. He suggests that this particular controversy is heating up as a result of of the province’s swing back towards a decidedly more conservative government with the election of Premier Jason Kenney. As LGBTQ rights are rolled back in schools and religious fundamentalism gains prominence, progressive municipalities look for ways to mark themselves as accepting of their LGBTQ citizens and communities.
With conservatism on the rise, allyship from any level of government matters more than ever.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Kristine for the link)