In Malta, a nation at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights, the consequences of the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Act has sparked an intense debate surrounding freedom of expression and religious persecution. Matthew Grech, a conservative Christian and former homosexual has emerged as a symbol of this struggle, as he contends with criminal charges stemming from the strict anti-conversion therapy legislation.
Malta is one of the few countries in the world that has implemented comprehensive legislation to ban conversion therapy. In 2016, Malta passed the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Act, which prohibits any form of conversion therapy or treatment aimed at changing, repressing, or eliminating a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
The law defines conversion therapy as “any form of intervention, including but not limited to therapeutic, medical or psychological interventions, with the aim of changing, repressing or eliminating a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” The law also prohibits advertising, offering, or providing such interventions and makes it illegal to subject minors to such interventions, even with the consent of their parents or legal guardians.
The law imposes fines and/or imprisonment for those who engage in or promote conversion therapy. The penalties can range from a fine of €1,000 to €10,000, or imprisonment of up to five years, or both. The law also establishes a National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQ people, including those who have been subjected to conversion therapy.
Overall, Malta’s anti-conversion therapy laws are considered to be among the most egregious and draconian in the world.
Grech shared that he is now facing criminal charges and had his first hearing in February this year. He is currently in a criminal court case for sharing his Christian faith and his story of leaving the homosexual lifestyle. Grech noted that it is the first time in his life that he has had to face a criminal court for simply sharing his Christian faith noting that it is “dangerous” to equate the preaching of a different point of view with imposition and forcing, as it “leaves no room for expression and other viewpoints.”
Grech’s story highlights the challenges conservative Christians face in sharing their experiences and faith within an increasingly progressive society. Grech shared that the law’s stringent approach creates a climate of fear and intimidation, leaving little room for the expression of differing viewpoints. For conservative Christians like Grech, the inability to openly discuss their faith and personal journeys without the risk of legal repercussions raises the question of whether the law has inadvertently stifled religious freedom.
Supporters of Grech argue that the legislation’s wide reach hinders open dialogue about one’s personal faith journey and infringes upon the constitutional right to freedom of speech. They maintain that sharing one’s testimony or beliefs should not be equated to endorsing or practicing conversion therapy, as it leaves no room for diverse perspectives on the topic of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Furthermore, critics of the law contend that the anti-conversion therapy legislation has created an environment where conservative Christians are unfairly targeted and persecuted for their religious beliefs. By attempting to silence these voices, the law unequivocally fuels resentment, creating a climate of intimidation toward conservative Christians.
As the case of Matthew Grech unfolds, it serves as a potent reminder of the state-sponsored persecution of Christians and the importance of preserving freedom of expression. It remains critical for society to be able to engage in open discourse and to preserve and protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens.