The topic concerns numerous cantons. However, Vaud is now presenting a concrete legislative project. Religious communities could be liable to prosecution in the future if they try to change people’s sexual orientation.
The word conversion therapy sounds harmless. The reality is far less squeamish. Because these “healings” aim to change a person’s sexual orientation or self-perceived gender identity. To put it bluntly, homosexuals and trans people should be “reversed” so that in future they can go through life as “normal” heterosexuals.
Numerous countries, including Germany and France, have banned such practices in recent years. Now, in all probability, a first Swiss canton will follow suit: On Thursday, triggered by a motion passed almost unanimously by Parliament, the Vaud government submitted a draft law for consultation that would make conversion therapies a punishable offence. Significant resistance is not to be expected.
Depending on the circumstances, conversion therapies can already be punishable throughout Switzerland. This is when the physical integrity or personal freedom of the person concerned is violated in the context of the attempted “healing” (bodily harm or coercion/threat). Courts can also apply the criminal offenses of extortion or usury. So far, the Federal Council has not seen any loopholes in the law.
Signal to victims and perpetrators
Like other cantons, however, Vaud believes that an explicit ban is necessary. This would “strengthen” the existing law – among other things, because a specific penalty would now apply to conversion therapies, State Councilor Rebecca Ruiz is convinced. Above all, however, the authorities want to send out a preventive signal: both victims and perpetrators should be more aware than they are today that the act is punishable.
In her justification, Ruiz refers to the UN Human Rights Council, which classifies conversion therapies as “discriminatory, degrading and inhuman”. Psychological damage, up to and including suicide, can be the result. The Federal Council also says that any “therapy” that aims to change homosexual orientation should be rejected from a human, technical and legal point of view. “Homosexuality is not a disease and does not require therapy,” said the state government.
Like SRF in a hidden filmed self-experiment recently pointed out, offers for “reversal of polarity” can be found above all in the evangelical milieu. The reporter had to pray the following words after a pastor: “In your name, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I free myself from this attraction to men.” The self-proclaimed “life coaches” often lack sound psychological training.
How many cases are there?
For its part, the canton of Vaud emphasizes that the planned legal text is not aimed at any specific professional group. The target is all people who offer such therapies, “regardless of their motivation”. This explicitly also includes medical specialists.
However, Vaud does not know how many people have to suffer an attempted “cure” each year. According to “24 heures”, around a dozen cases have been reported in the past five years. According to State Councilor Ruiz, this is most likely just the tip of the iceberg. Because many homosexuals did not dare to talk about what they had experienced – for fear of reprisals or because they find themselves in a conflict of loyalty in their church-religious environment.
So Vaud is now pushing ahead. However, the topic also remains topical at the federal level: A report is intended to show how widespread the phenomenon is in Switzerland. Depending on the outcome, calls for a national ban on conversion therapies could gain ground. Corresponding parliamentary demands are pending.