A Maltese Christian charity worker is facing criminal charges for allegedly discussing and promoting so-called conversion practices after he shared his ex-gay testimony during an online media interview.
The case, believed to be the first of its kind, will see Matthew Grech, 33, a trustee of the Core Issues Trust, stand trial on Feb. 3 at the Court of Magistrates in Valletta, along with the presenters of a local free speech media outlet, PMnews Malta, said the U.K.-based group Christian Concern, whose arm, Christian Legal Centre, is supporting the charity worker.
According to Maltese laws that prohibit "conversion practices," if found guilty, Grech could face a punishment of five months in prison and/or a fine of $5,000, the group said.
Grech believes he is being targeted by members of the Malta Gay Rights Movement who argue that Christian views on marriage, human identity and any discussion related to LGBT lifestyles should be considered a criminal offense.
In the online interview last April, which was advertised on Facebook beforehand, Grech spoke about his childhood, the confusion he experienced with his own sexuality and relationships, and how as an adult he had been involved in homosexual relationships before becoming a Christian, which changed his life dramatically.
Grech stated that he does not agree with the term conversion therapy and the deeper he went into his Christian faith exploring the Bible, the more he understood that homosexuality is not an identity but a practice.
He shared his view that no matter what sexual feelings a man or a woman experiences, if they have sexual relations with a person of the same sex, they commit the homosexual act in God's eyes, and that is a sin.
He went on to say that just like every other sin, one can repent from it and ask God for forgiveness and ask Him for strength to overcome. He made it clear that he was talking from a Christian perspective.
At no point during the program did Grech invite any listener to attend therapy or encourage anyone to get help for unwanted same-sex attraction, Christian Concern said in the statement.
This case holds significance on an international level because, in 2016, Malta became the first country in the European Union to outlaw counseling or therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction, often derisively referred to as conversion therapy by LGBT groups.
“Anyone who cares about freedom of speech should be alarmed by what is happening to me,” Grech was quoted as saying. “If it happens to me in Malta, I assure you that it will soon be happening in the U.K. and other countries across the world.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s Culture Minister Michelle Donelan said last week that the government plans to ban conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-identified individuals.
In a consultation in December 2021, over 500 church leaders from across the U.K. wrote to the government to say they were prepared to face criminal charges if a conversion therapy ban was introduced.
In the letter, they said they would "continue to do our duty to God" even if the proposed ban came into force.
"It should not be a criminal offense for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in His image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman. Yet this seems to be the likely outcome of the proposed legislation," they wrote.
A consultation document at the time said, “The United Kingdom is a global leader on LGBT rights and is committed to banning the coercive and abhorrent practice of conversion therapy. We want every individual to have the freedom to be themselves and proposals have been developed with the protection of LGBT people in mind. The proposals we are bringing forward in this consultation are intended to ensure that everyone in this country is protected through both criminal and civil measures.”
In the United States, a federal appeals court unanimously upheld a Washington state law prohibiting therapy for minors experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction last September, rejecting a Christian therapist's claims that the ban violated his free speech rights to counsel patients with unwanted same-sex attraction.
In 2013, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of a similar California law, a first-in-the-nation ban on sexual orientation change therapy for minors.
Sometimes also known as "reparative therapy," the court defined conversion therapy as an attempt to "change an individual's sexual orientation from gay to heterosexual or to change an individual's gender identity from transgender to cisgender."
Such counseling has been largely rejected by mainstream psychiatric organizations in the United States, with over 20 states and the District of Columbia banning the practice on minors.
However, some Christian counselors say their practices are often misconstrued and the term "conversion therapy" maligns their efforts to help people facing unwanted same-sex attraction.