I’M STRAIGHT, so the idea that someone could try to make me gay or surrender my heterosexuality, either through prayer or some form of counselling, strikes me as both absurd and abusive.

Sexuality isn’t a lifestyle choice. It’s not like how much sugar you take in your tea. It’s how we’re born. My heterosexuality is hardwired. Human beings don’t "learn" how to be straight, gay or lesbian.

So, to me, the practice of so-called "conversion therapy" - where church figures or some quack therapists try to change or suppress a young person’s sexuality - seems rather damnable. You cannot exorcise sexuality. Desire isn’t demonic.

This issue is about to come roaring to life. Today, the Scottish Government publishes proposals on how it intends to address conversion therapy. The SNP-Green administration deems conversion therapy “harmful”, and plans to legislate. Effectively, what we are looking at is a conversion therapy ban.

Neil Mackay: Anti-woke hysteria is at brain-rotting levels

So the starting gun is being fired on Scotland’s latest culture war - a form of public combat we’ve had far too much of in this country. Forgive the bad pun, but we should all be praying this doesn’t turn into another gender reform showdown.

The battle over trans rights really wounded Scotland. It created a clash between friends and family, and set Holyrood on a collision course with Westminster. Yet, worse, it took a sensitive subject about the lives and rights of a minority and turned it into a bloodsport.

Folk like me - liberal-leftie types - will reflexively support a ban or limitation on conversion therapy. Social conservatives will take the opposing view. This much we know.

Is it utopian to suggest that we try to disagree better this time? That we don’t crawl into the gutter and see every debate splattered with insults like "bigot" or "groomer"?

I - and folk like me - am appalled at the notion of someone in a clerical dog collar praying for the "sexual conversion" of a teenager trying to come to terms with being gay or lesbian.

However, I need to pause and realise that the person doing the praying most likely isn’t "evil’" they’re most likely not trying to hurt that teenager. They most likely believe that they’re doing "God’s work" and therefore, in their eyes, doing "good".

The Herald: The battle over trans rights wounded ScotlandThe battle over trans rights wounded Scotland (Image: free)

Likewise, folk of a religious persuasion need to realise that people like me don’t believe what they believe; that we’re motivated by good intentions too. We care about the human being struggling to understand themselves, about the right of the individual to decide their course in life, and about the need for religion to stay out of our bedrooms and private lives.

Most of all, though, people like me - straight men and women - and people of faith, if they are also heterosexual, ought to leave most of this conversation to the people who matter in the debate: LGBT folk. They’re the ones whose voices should be heard the loudest.

In any debate about rights, there’s always a clash. The debate around gender reform centred on the clash that was perceived between women’s rights and trans rights. In a sane world, this could have been navigated with dignity and resolved with compromise. Instead, it became a zero-sum game and descended into a carpet-bombing hatefest from hardliners on both sides.

Neil Mackay: Homophobic abuse shows how far Scotland has sunk

The clash around conversion therapy will centre, primarily, on the rights of religious groups versus the rights of individuals. Should religious groups be free to pursue activities which are deemed detrimental to the individual, particularly young individuals?

The rights of parents will also be raised. The question here is: should parents be allowed to try to change their child’s sexuality, even if by doing so they damage that child?

I don’t close my mind to people of faith or parental rights lobbyists. I may disagree but I’m more than willing to engage in reasoned, polite and robust debate. The same must be done in return.

But again, it’s not my "side" or the other "side" that matters much when it comes to polite debate. It won’t mean very much in the scheme of things if some religious type insults me, or some lefty type insults someone of faith. What matters is how LGBT folk are treated.

We cannot afford a debate to emerge in which it’s okay to disparage or sneer at someone because of their sexuality. There’s every risk that this is the course the conversion therapy debate will follow. We can only take the trans debate as a roadmap, after all.

There’s just one way that this debate can be pursued in a civilised fashion and that’s if folk with a voice, the folk who will lead this debate, take a stand and demand decency.

Politicians, journalists, church figures, and leaders of the LGBT community should practise a form of zero tolerance for cruelty. If voices from their "side" pipe up with insults and abuse then stamp on them and say you want nothing to do with them.

Hating an abstract practice - conversion therapy, say, or the death penalty - isn’t the same as hating those who may support it.

I hope we come through this debate with our already somewhat shredded decency no further shredded, and I hope we see conversion therapy ended in a dignified, respectful way.

Neil Mackay: Family, faith and flag … the new Tory weapons

It would be rather uplifting if, instead of spewing contempt on those who disagree with us, we emerge from this discussion as a society that’s prepared to listen to each other and argue fervently yet in a fashion which respects the humanity of the opponent.

This year is going to be one of bitter division across the world. Wouldn’t it be grand if little old Scotland did it differently, especially given all the damn animosity we’ve contended with of late?

I’ll be candid, though. My utopianism doesn’t stretch that far. I fear that today is the start of yet another culture war which will drive so many of us further apart; a culture war which will further damage three pillars of our society: church, parliament, and media.

If we’re no longer able to find the means by which we can both disagree yet still respect each other, then it’s hard to see how we can describe ourselves as a functioning society.