Cabinet adopts extensive ban on so-called “conversion therapies”

Jens Spahn: “An important signal to society, to all those who struggle with their homosexuality.”

18 December 2019

Medical interventions aimed at deliberately changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or self-perceived gender identity of a person (so-called conversion therapies) shall in future be banned. That is the aim of the “Bill to Protect against Conversion Therapies”, which the Cabinet approved today. Violations of this law are to be penalised with a prison sentence of up to one year or a heavy fine.

Homosexuality isn’t a disease. That’s why the term therapy is misleading. We want to ban so-called conversion therapies as far as possible. Wherever they’re carried out, they often cause serious physical and mental suffering. These alleged therapies make people sick, not healthy. And a ban sends out an important signal to society, to all those who struggle with their homosexuality: It’s okay to be the way you are.

Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn

The law is scheduled to come into force mid-2020. The law does not require the approval of the Bundesrat.

What is to be banned?

  • Conversion therapies for minors in general, as well as

  • for persons of legal age, whose consent was obtained without their volition (e.g. through coercion, threat, deception, error). (For instance, if the practitioner did not inform them of the treatment’s harmfulness.)

What else is to be banned?

  • Publicly advertising, providing and arranging such treatments.

  • In the case of treatment for people under the age of 18, this also includes non-public promoting, providing and arranging.

What happens in case of a violation?

  • Violations of the ban on conversion therapies are to be punished with a prison sentence of up to one year.

  • Violations of the ban on advertising, providing and arranging shall be penalised with a fine of up to 30,000 euros.

To whom does the ban apply?

  • The ban applies to everyone, not just those working in the field.

  • Adults or other legal guardians or persons with parental authority can also be punished in cases of gross violation of their duty of care or their educational responsibilities.

What treatments are exempted from this ban?

  • Treatments of sexual preference disorders (e.g. exhibitionism, paedophilia) and

  • treatments that help a person better express their self-perceived gender identity or their desire to acquire a more feminine or masculine physique.

Does the ban also apply to pastoral or psychotherapeutic conversations?

  • The ban will only apply if the conversation partner deliberately attempts to influence someone’s sexual orientation or their self-perceived gender identity.

What provisions besides the ban does the Bill contain?

  • A counselling service by the Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung/BZgA) for all those personally affected, family members and, for instance, people who deal with the topic on a professional basis and provide advice.

  • This service will be available free-of-charge, in multiple languages and anonymously, in the form of telephone and online counselling.

Why do we need a ban on so-called conversion therapies?

In Germany, organisations still exist that hold and spread the conviction that non-heterosexual orientations (such as homosexuality or bisexuality) or non-conforming gender identities (e.g. transgenderism) are “disorders” and therefore require treatment. They offer so-called conversion therapies, aimed at deliberately changing or suppressing a person’s sexual orientation or their self-perceived gender identity.

The World Health Organization has declared that homosexuality and transgenderism are not disorders and that there is therefore no need for a “therapy”. In 2013, the World Medical Association condemned so-called conversion therapies as a human rights violation and declared them incompatible with the ethics of medical care and, in 2014, the German Federation of Physicians warned against their negative effects on health.

Why are so-called conversion therapies dangerous?

None of the well-known studies have come to the conclusion that it is possible to permanently change sexual orientation. What has been scientifically proven, however, is that such “therapies” can cause severe damage to health such as: depression, anxiety disorders, loss of sexual feelings and an increased risk of suicide. It has also been proven to lead to stigmatisation and discrimination effects on third parties by way of minority stress. 

Why a separate law and not a provision in the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch/StGB)?

The particular injustice in so-called conversion therapies lies above all in the encroachment on the sexual and gender self-determination and the impairment of the health of those affected, often through psychological influence. Current criminal law does not do this aspect sufficient justice. A separate law enables the bundling of penal provisions, provisions on administrative fines and the counselling services under one law, otherwise these provisions would have needed to be distributed across several different laws.