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Gay Sex Convictions Erased in New Zealand By Unanimous Vote

It’s unanimous: Gay New Zealanders arrested under since-repealed laws criminalizing sodomy will no longer have those convictions on their record following a Tuesday vote in Parliament.

Every single member of the 120-seat legislature approved a bill that would expunge the criminal records of anyone targeted for having consensual gay sex before 1986, when those laws were lifted. Prior to that time, the charges of “sodomy,” “indecency between males,” and “keeping a place of resort for homosexual acts” were outlawed, as the local news station KIII-TV reports.

Justice Minister Andrew Little formally apologized to gay and bisexual men apprehended under these discriminatory codes.

“I would like to apologize again to all the men and members of the rainbow community who have been affected by the prejudice, stigma and other negative effects caused by convictions for historical homosexual offenses,” Little said in an emotional address. “This bill sends a clear signal that discrimination against gay people is no longer acceptable, and that we are committed to putting right wrongs from the past.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson called it a “fantastic advance,” one “built on the shoulders” of past generations of LGBTQ people who struggled for acceptance.

Robertson, who is openly gay, said the legislation honors “not just those men who were arrested or convicted or who spent time in prison but… those men who just lived their lives as a gay man, who actually just tried to survive through those years.”

The move resulted from a 2016 petition by 26-year-old Wiremu Demchick, a programmer who felt New Zealand’s government should atone for the decades of persecution to which LGBTQ people were subjected. More than 1,000 people are expected to benefit from the option to have their prior convictions erased.

Family members of deceased men convicted under the sodomy laws can also apply for expungement on their behalf.

Unlike similar actions in Germany and the U.K., however, the parliamentary move does not involve financial reparations for detained gay men. In 2016, Germany announced that more than 50,000 gay men jailed under the Nazi-era law Paragraph 175 would receive $38 million in damageswhich amounts to approximately $760 per person.

In 2017, Canada also offered compensation to victims of a decades-long “purge” of LGBTQ government workers viewed as vulnerable to blackmail by foreign powers. Numerous federal employees were terminated and jailed under the program.

Parliamentary ministers in New Zealand note, though, that the impact of these policies is not over.

Although the United Kingdom passed “Turing’s Law” in 2017 pardoning gay men convicted under its defunct anti-sodomy laws, 36 of the 72 countries which currently criminalize homosexuality are former U.K. colonies.

“This is part of our colonial history, and it’s incredibly interesting, when you go to these IPU forums and you have the African countries and you have the Asian countries and they all talk about this being abnormal behavior, but the reality is the condemnation of this behaviour came from England,” said openly lesbian MP Louisa Wall during deliberations.

“I believe that England, as a colonising power, still has a lot of work to do to help us move from a world that is filled with hate to a world that’s filled with love,” Wall continued.

Robertson agrees that world governments have a lot of work to do in righting the wrongs of previous generations.

“[T]his law was and is wrong,” he said. “The fact that we can expunge the convictions today is a mighty step forward for addressing that. But the constant fear and the reminder of the worthlessness and the shame of your mere existence is not something we can put away so easily because it echoes through generations.”

Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.