German health minister Jens Spahn (centre) in Berlin on December 11 2019. Picture: AFP/RONNY HARTMANN
German health minister Jens Spahn (centre) in Berlin on December 11 2019. Picture: AFP/RONNY HARTMANN

Berlin — Germany moved a step closer to banning gay “conversion therapies” on Wednesday, as its cabinet backed a law that punishes bogus practitioners with up to a year in prison.

Activists hailed the move, saying Germany would become the first major European power to outlaw attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation with techniques including hypnotism and electro-convulsive therapy.

“Homosexuality is not an illness. So the term therapy in itself is misleading,” health minister Jens Spahn — a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats — said in a statement.

The treatments — sometimes carried out by relatives or religious counsellors — cause severe mental and physical harm, Spahn said. “This alleged therapy makes you sick and not healthy.” 

The legislation, which parliament is expected to pass by the northern hemisphere summer, will punish violations with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to €30,000.

An estimated 1,000 people are subjected to conversion therapies every year in Germany, according to the Magnus-Hirschfeld Foundation, a Berlin-based organisation that fights discrimination.

A spokesperson for the foundation said that Germany is set to become the first major European country to ban conversion therapies, adding that Berlin’s decision could motivate other industrialised countries to follow suit.

Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and just more than a dozen US states have outlawed conversion therapy, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a network of LGBTI+ rights groups. Countries including Britain, New Zealand and Australia are considering bans.

About 700,000 Americans have been forced to undergo a form of conversion therapy, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California.

In Britain, a fifth of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, who have tried to change their sexuality, have attempted suicide, according to a study by the Ozanne Foundation released in February.

Reuters