A former Presbyterian elder dismissed over his same-sex marriage has said a DUP amendment to a motion to ban conversion therapy would allow the practice to continue in another guise.
teven Smyrl appealed to MLAs to support an Ulster Unionist motion banning the 'therapy' which will be debated in the Assembly today.
He said: "With great simplicity and clarity, the motion states the blatantly obvious, which is that 'it is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure'.
"Yet the DUP has tabled an amendment 'recognising that legitimate religious activities such as preaching, prayer and pastoral support do not constitute conversion therapy, cannot be defined as such and must be protected.'
"For a minister or a priest to pray with someone, with the idea that if they pray hard enough they will change that person's sexuality, is demeaning and beyond scientific reason.
"It is not the thin end of the wedge, it is a different part of the very same wedge. 'Praying away the gay' can lead to some victims taking their own lives."
Mr Smyrl, who lost his position at Sandymount Christ Church in Dublin in 2019, said that conversion therapy "should enjoy the same universal sense of revulsion" as female genital mutilation.
He described those practising it, in any form, "as religious thugs". He added: "It's high time that conversion therapy was stopped in all its forms in Northern Ireland. I urge the Assembly to reject the DUP amendment and pass the motion in its original form."
Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin said conversion therapy must be consigned to history. She welcomed the UUP motion to "ban this cruel and unjust practice" and described the DUP amendment as "an insult to the LGBT+ community".
Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan also opposed the DUP amendment. "'Praying the gay away' is just as unacceptable as any other pseudoscientific approach which tells LGBT+ people they are 'sick' and 'broken' and can change their sexual orientation or gender identity," he said.
Mr Corrigan said MLAs should "not be distracted" and should "ensure that any legislation not only covers the now, thankfully, rare conversion activity in healthcare settings, but addresses religious practices where demonstrable harm results".
In a statement, the DUP said discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was wrong and everyone was "equal and should be treated as such".
It said: "As a party we do not support 'gay conversion therapy' and are clear that no-one should be forced into any treatment against their will.
"Our approach to any legislation that may come forward will be in adherence to this principle.
"In equal measure, we believe there must be a balance between safeguarding against dangerous practices and any attempt, deliberate or otherwise, to restrict freedom of religious belief, speech and association.
"We retain a level of concern that the debate on this important issue has at times become conflated with efforts to restrict these freedoms and constrain legitimate activities by religious organisations or others which cannot reasonably be deemed to be conversion therapy."
It added: "In striving to strike an appropriate and balanced outcome, we will continue to take account of the views of professional bodies on issues relating to conversion therapy and appreciate that future steps should be guided by such relevant expert advice."