The head of the Presbyterian church in Australia says its pastors will not be directed to obey the Victorian government’s new law banning gay conversion practices, calling the bill “a declaration of war on scripture”.
In an interview with Guardian Australia on Thursday, the moderator general of the Presbyterian church in Australia, Rev Peter Barnes, called the bill – which passed Victoria’s parliament earlier this month – “authoritarian” and said the church would ignore it on the basis that church leaders “don’t get our instructions from parliament house”.Senior faith leaders call for global decriminalisation of LGBT+ peopleRead more
“Civil authorities have a God-given right to govern, I’m not questioning that, but its authority is not open-ended,” he said.
“If the government passes legislation I don’t think is wise, that’s one thing. You’re not going to please all people all the time. If I think they should lower taxes but they raise them, I still pay my taxes.
“But there are limits, and this legislation puts itself very obviously against scripture. It was a declaration of war against scripture.”
The bill, which passed the parliament in February, outlaws practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Penalties for those found to have engaged in conversion practices resulting in serious injury face penalties of up to 10 years jail or up to $10,000 in fines.
The bill also empowers the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of suspected conversion practices.
Advocacy groups including the Brave Network, the LGBTQIA+ committee of the Uniting church in Australia and Rainbow Catholics lauded the bill as the “world’s most significant achievement in legislation curtailing the diabolical influence of the conversion movement”. During a marathon debate on the bill in parliament, Labor’s Harriet Shing – the first openly lesbian member of Victorian parliament – said the bill helped to “recognise the pain and the trauma and the hurt of victims and survivors”.
The bill goes further than one passed in Queensland last year in that it prohibits harmful practices not only in healthcare settings but also in religious settings.
This includes “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer-based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism”.