The Mediterranean island nation of Malta has become the first European country to criminalize therapeutic methods that purport to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the government and activist groups said.
That measure was one aspect of far-reaching legislation approved by Parliament on Monday that also includes provisions that support transgender rights. In a statement, the government said the two bills “prohibit the pathologization of any sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
The first bill focused on so-called conversion therapy, a discredited collection of quasi-psychoanalytic methods that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also sometimes known as “reparative therapy” or, when religious methods are used, “ex-gay ministry.”
Conversion therapy has been increasingly in the spotlight in the weeks since Donald J. Trump won the United States presidential election because of speculation that his running mate, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, supports the practice. Mr. Pence has denied that is the case.
In Malta, the new law imposes fines and jail terms “on those advertising, offering, performing or referring an individual to another person which performs” any practice “which aims to change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” It said “no sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression constitutes a disorder, disease or shortcoming of any sort.”
The second act focused on gender identity and the rights of transgender people.
It lowered the age at which people can change their gender on government documents without the consent of a parent or guardian to 16 from 18.
The measure also allows what the government called “non-Maltese individuals who are currently detained in gender segregated facilities” to secure an affidavit attesting to their gender identity which can then be used to request housing that accords with that identity instead of the gender on their birth certificate.
Malta is the smallest European Union member state by population, with just over 420,000 people, and it has been praised for its record on gay and transgender rights before.
In a report issued in May, the European arm of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association called the country, which lies in the Mediterranean between Italy and Libya, the most gay-friendly in Europe.
“With the adoption of these bills Malta continues to be at the forefront of trans rights in Europe,” Transgender Europe, an advocacy group, said in a statement.
Graeme Reid, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said he believed Malta was the first European country to enact a ban on conversion therapy, although he said others regulate the practice through other means, including professional medical associations.
“Any psychiatric treatment that sets out to change sexual orientation or gender identity is not only wrongheaded, but harmful,” he said.
Both measures were supported by a range of mental health organizations in Malta, including the Malta Chamber of Psychologists and the Maltese Association of Psychiatry.
In a statement, the groups said they were “very proud to have played an integral part in the drafting of this bill, which openly disapproves of practices which are harmful to people in our community.”