A government proposal to outlaw gay conversion therapy advertising has been endorsed by the Nationalist Party.

Speaking in parliament on Monday, Opposition MP Graziella Attard Previ made it clear that the PN was in favour of the amendments being discussed in parliament.

“Sexual orientation is not a choice,” Attard Previ said. “Just as you do not choose to be born, or whether you are left or right-handed, you do not choose your sexual orientation.”

She described gay conversion practices as a fake form of therapy based on “fear and shame” and designed to harm its subjects psychologically.

Malta was the first country in Europe to ban gay conversion therapy, doing so in 2016 with the unanimous backing of both parties in parliament.

Such therapies are considered a form of pseudoscience and there is extensive empirical evidence that they do not work and can be harmful to their subjects.

But while the 2016 law criminalised such practices, it did not make it a crime to promote them.

The amendments seek to make promoting or publicising gay conversion therapies a crime in and of itself. Anyone found guilty would risk spending up to five months in jail and being fined anything from €1,000 to €5,000.

Those convicted of promoting such therapies to anyone classified as vulnerable will face even more stringent penalties.

Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg praised former minister Helena Dalli for having spearheaded efforts in 2016 to ban the practice and emphasised that such therapies have no basis in science.

“LGBTIQ people do not need any form of healing or therapy,” Buttigieg said. “Being gay, trans or bi is not a disease. There is no need for a cure.”

Buttigieg had announced the amendments in January, just days before a leading proponent of such therapies, Matthew Grech, was hauled to court to face charges of having promoted the therapy during an online show.

Speaking on Monday in parliament, she acknowledged that, despite the 2016 law, police were still finding it hard to prosecute those promoting gay conversion services.

Advertising something illegal like cocaine was a crime, the junior minister said, and the same principle should apply to promoting services that seek to alter a person’s sexual orientation.

With these legal amendments, “those who think they can preach the false theories of conversion will have to face the consequences,” Buttigieg said.

These amendments would only affect a small minority, Buttigieg acknowledged, but the government was duty-bound to protect this minority from being victimised by such practices, she said.

That was a point made by Buttigieg’s Opposition colleague Attard Previ too.

“Even if there was only a single person who was not heterosexual, the state has a duty to help and protect them. Let alone when we have a much bigger number,” the PN MP said.

Attard Previ acknowledged that Labour governments had driven LGBTIQ rights forward over the past decade, and also admitted that the PN she formed part of had at times been “overly cautious”.

But she also noted how the PN had voted in favour of various measures introduced in recent years, including marriage equality.

She also expressed dismay at the continued use of homophobic slurs, most notably on social media.

“Laws may have changed, but mentalities have not,” she said, as she called for the government to make a greater effort to educate people about sexual orientation and its many shades.

Labour MP Randolph Debattista emphasised the importance of the amendments and, like Attard Previ, noted that stigma and discrimination related to sexual orientation remained.

He recalled how welcoming his parents had been when he had come out as gay to them. His experience was positive, he said. But many people had it much tougher, and had to contend with inflammatory statements and being discriminated against because of who they are, he noted.

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