Germany’s legislature on Thursday passed a ban on the advertising and practice of so-called gay conversion therapy for people under age 18, joining a growing list of countries and local jurisdictions that have moved to prohibit the debunked practice in minors.
Germany is the fifth nation to pass such a ban, following Malta, Ecuador, Brazil and Taiwan. In the United States, 20 states and a number of cities have banned the practice for minors and some members of Congress have attempted to prohibit the practice federally.
“Young people are being forced into conversion therapies,” German Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said, “and so it is very important that they should find support in the existence of this law: a clear signal that the state does not want this to happen.”
Some members of Germany’s left-wing opposition declined to support the measure because it included just minors — those under 18 — instead of the traditional societal category of “youth,” which extends to 26.
Gabriela Lünsmann of Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Association (LSVD) said the bill did not go far enough because it did not protect those between 19 and 26, and she objected to the inclusion of the phrase "treatment performed on humans,” which she and her organization said “has a positive connotation and suggests a promise of healing and an achievable treatment goal.”
In response to critics of the ban’s age limit, Spahn, who is gay, said that the law had to be able to withstand legal challenges.
New York City could serve as a cautionary tale: Unlike other U.S. states and localities, the city initially passed a ban that prohibited the practice of conversion therapy on people of all ages. The expansive measure led to a legal challenge by a conservative religious group on behalf of a man who sought religious counseling for his same-sex attraction. Fearing the challenge could lead to a Supreme Court decision unfavorable to the LGBTQ community, New York City lawmakers repealed the initial ban and rushed to pass an age-limited law.
“It’s smart to start with bans on conversion therapy for minors, because we need to ensure there are no instances of child abuse and that minors are protected from harmful practies and unnecessary interventions that could have lasting impact on their development,” Jessica Stern, the executive director of OutRight Action International, a global human rights organization, told NBC News.
“The challenge with restrictions on so-called conversion therapy for adults is that from a human rights perspective, we believe in the principle of self-determination,” Stern said. “So when we look at ways to restrict, limit or ban conversion therapy, it becomes really important to look at other forms of regulation.”
Some states and jurisdictions, including New York, allow adult individuals who felt that they were sold a false service the ability to pursue a civil suit for fraudulent business practices after the fact. Other potential strategies, Stern suggested, might involve simply enforcing existing bans on torture for practices like electro-shock therapy when used in at-risk populations.
A 2019 survey by OutRight Action International found that a third of people around the globe who have undergone conversion therapy chose to do it for themselves, while two thirds were coerced.
Conversion therapy has been associated with suicidal ideation and attempts, drug abuse and depression. In November, the American Medical Association endorsed a nationwide ban on the controversial practice. Other major medical and health associations, including the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, have also spoken out against it.