Malta is the first European country to ban gay "conversion therapy"

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The parliament of Malta passed a bill on Monday banning "conversion therapy," the name given to programs that aim to change sexual orientation or gender identity, the Times of Malta reports. In passing the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Bill, the Mediterranean island nation is reportedly the first European country to effectively criminalize the practice nationwide.

"Conversion therapy," also called "reparative therapy," has been widely criticized for being both ineffective and actively harmful. The World Psychiatric Association condemns the practice as "wholly unethical" and maintains that "there is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed." 

People celebrate in Malta in 2014 after the parliament approves same-sex civil unions.  Matthew Mirabelli/Getty Images

So-called "therapy" to change sexuality can include electroshock treatment or verbal abuse. In the U.S., "conversion therapy" is banned in some form in five states and Washington, D.C.

But the official Republican Party Platform includes a line specifying the party's support for "the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children." According to Time, that language came courtesy of Tony Perkins, of the anti-gay Family Research Council, who has spoken out in favor of allowing parents to put their children into conversion programs.

And Vice President-elect Mike Pence, during a Congressional campaign in 2000, advocated for directing funds "toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." Pence's spokesperson told the New York Times that his past platform was misrepresented, but, as the Times reports, many remain "skeptical."

While such "therapies" remain legal in much of the U.S., with the passage of Monday's bill, Malta's parliament is sending a strong message that one country, at least, is united in condemning what the government called in a statement the "deceptive and harmful act" of "conversion practices."