The Parliament of the Republic of Cyprus banned conversion therapies on Thursday May 24th, after a long and suspenseful meeting.
This is an important victory of the LGBTQ+ community. It is a huge blow especially against the Orthodox Church who mainly performs these kinds of therapies. The Church of Cyprus launched a vicious homophobic campaign in the days prior to the parliament session, trying to persuade MPs to exclude the church from the scope of the bill.
The bill amended the penal code and defines prison sentences and fines for those engage in conversion therapies. The bill was put forward a year ago by AKEL (the ex-communist, now social-democratic party) MPs. A first discussion in the plenary session of the parliament took place on May 17th. Ultra-religious conservative MPs and the MPs of the neofascist ELAM (sister party of Golden Dawn in Greece), filed amendments to the bill in order to nullify it. One of the amendments was to exclude the Church from the bill, and to include a clause that would decriminalise conversion therapies if the “patient” gives consent.
Four days before the voting, the Church publicised a homophobic statement in order to influence MPs. Among other things like
“The gender of every human is a gift given by God”,
and also that
“Gender is determined by the physiology of the human body and is not an element of choice, self-determination, or can be changed at will.
they stated that with the bill
“The long tradition of our Motherland, which wants the faithful, who freely trust the pastoral care of the Church, to resort to it for advice, is being criminalized.”
Finally, they absurdly declare
“Under the pretext of protecting human rights, a group of people cannot impose their way of life on others…” (!!!)
The statement extended a call to the members of parliament
“We therefore appeal to our parliamentarians not to destroy what is left of the healthy elements in this country. The spiritual degeneration of society is not the best thing for a people struggling for national survival”.
Even though the Republic of Cyprus is a secular state, the Orthodox Church plays a very active role in politics. They are the biggest land owner after the Cypriot state, one of the richest institutions, with huge property which includes hotels, malls and stocks in big banks. They essentially control the Ministry of Education, they participate in the public debate and influence the decision making process for legislation and even political decisions on the national question. This was the reason that the former governing party and biggest party in parliament at the moment, the right wing DISI (Democratic Rally), had to file an amendment mentioning that the law is not above the constitution that protects the right of people to believe in a religion.
The excitement was high outside the building of the parliament on Thursday in the protest called by Queer Collective. Nobody knew which MP will vote for which amendment. The majority of the MPs belong to the right and centre right wing parties, who have close ties to the Church. Finally, after a two-hour meeting, 36 out of 56 MPs voted in favour of the bill, and against the exceptions and the amendments of the far right and the Church.
It was a great victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Cyprus. Even though this is just a legal change, which of course does not automatically eradicate homophobia or solves the myriad problems facing the LGBTQ+ community.
We can easily imagine that the Church, or other “health practitioners” of this ilk, will try to find ways around the new law. And that the judicial system, which is mired in sexism and homophobia, will help them in this task. However, all progressive legislative changes are tools that our communities can use. Until we overthrow the patriarchal capitalist system that perpetuates sexism, racism and homophobia we will not really live in a society with real equality and justice.