The support of the three upper house MPs will likely be sufficient to carry the legislation through the Legislative Council. It is expected to be debated in the upper house in February.
The decision to also include harmful “religious-based practices” and “prayer-based practices” in the bill – such as exorcisms, deliverance or spiritual guidance designed to overcome same-sex attraction – has alarmed proponents of religious freedom including Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli.
People found guilty of trying to suppress or change another person’s sexuality or gender identity face up to 10 years’ jail or fines of almost $10,000.
The state government has said sermons and prayer practices that do not target an individual will not be prohibited but same-sex attracted people seeking spiritual guidance from a faith leader who tried to change their sexuality through prayer sessions would be breaking the law.
Internal divisions in the Liberal Party emerged during the week as influential party member Karina Okotel, a religious right-winger, launched a campaign to urge MPs to oppose the laws. Frontbencher Tim Smith said the party should not allow a conscience vote and said conversion therapies were “demented”.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said on Tuesday that he and his party strongly opposed “inhumane” treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy but said the bill had elements that could stop religious groups teaching their faith and affect the way parents care for their children.
Mr O’Brien, speaking after a meeting of Liberal MPs on Tuesday morning, said “the idea you can change someone’s sexuality by converting them is just nonsense” and said he would attempt to halt passage of the bill to allow time to consult to affected communities.
“There is absolute support for the idea of banning these sorts of coercive conversion therapies,” Mr O’Brien said.
However, he declined to say whether the party would allow a conscience vote and said the party reserved its position on the bill in the upper house where the government will need opposition or crossbench support.
“There have been concerns raised about aspects of the bill,” he said. “The impact of the role of parents and their children. Impacts on the role of faith communities and their ability to teach their religions … There are legitimate questions raised by people who all agree conversion therapy should be outlawed.”
Labor holds 17 of the 40 upper house votes and the opposition holds 11. The government would ordinarily require four crossbench votes to pass laws but former minister Adem Somyurek, who resigned and now sits as an independent, has not been voting on bills and is not expected to resume voting consistently.
In addition to the three secured votes, two Justice Party MPs are broadly supportive of the reforms but are reserving their decision. The remaining six independents are all still considering if they will support the legislation.
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Paul is a Victorian political reporter for The Age.