River of Love member Matthew Grech has been charged with breaching Malta’s law banning gay conversion therapy by “advertising” conversion practices. (The full transcript of the interview in question is at https://christianconcern.com/news/christian-charity-worker-prosecuted-for-conversion-therapy/).

Did he, though? 

To be clear from the start, we fully support the ban on gay conversion therapy, and do not support Mr Grech’s apparently favourable (if muddled) view of it. Nor do we agree that homosexual behaviour is in any way wrong. But he told his particular story, from his particular religious view. How can democracy work if we aren’t exposed to views we don’t share? 

What does the law say?

The Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act defines “conversion practices” as “any treatment, practice or sustained effort that aims to change, repress and, or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression”. It narrows down the definition of conversion practices to, in summary, exclude genuine psychotherapeutic and healthcare services which don’t treat any particular combination of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as pathological.

On advertising, the Act says “It shall be unlawful for any person to advertise conversion practices”. (The Times of Malta recently reported that the law will be amended to redefine this clause “to include the publishing, advertising, displaying, distributing, referral and circulation of any material promoting the practice” https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/law-banning-gay-conversion-therapy-strengthened.1006708)

What did Mr Grech say?

In his interview, Mr Grech describes as “anti-Christian” the affirmation in the abstract to the Act that “all persons have a sexual orientation, a gender identity and a gender expression, and that no particular combination of these three characteristics constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability and, or shortcoming” – because “in the bible, homosexuality is a sin”. 

Mr Grech believes in a heteronormative society “marriage between one man and one woman is the norm and that it needs to be the common base of how we build society”. He claims people who say they’re gay may merely be experiencing passing feelings that anyone might have; that sexual attraction is only one piece of the puzzle (he speaks of “soul attraction” and “spiritual attraction”); that homosexuality may arise from trauma; and that it may be a result of upbringing.

Mr Grech says he is not in favour of “harmful practices that were used in the past”, such as corrective rape, or being forced to look at perverse images. He says he is in favour of “talk therapy” to explore the origins of one’s sexual desires “they’re helping you better understand yourself, helping you understand that there can be a link between life experience and your desires and sexual behaviour”. This does not sound like a promotion of conversion therapy; assistance in exploring the origins of one’s sexual feelings doesn’t necessarily seek to change, repress or eliminate anything.

Concluding thoughts

“I despise what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”, attributed to Voltaire, is perhaps a cliché, but nonetheless encapsulates the concept of free speech, embedded in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention of Human Rights, and the Constitution of Malta. Of course, there are limits to free speech – national security, incitement and hate speech, unwarranted harm etc – but describing one’s own personal experience and beliefs as one sees them seems to us to fall well within any such limits.

Despite our disagreements with Mr Grech, we cannot see any crime in stating publicly beliefs that being gay is wrong and that it may be possible to change one’s sexuality.