The 1985 Homosexual Law Reform Bill polarised New Zealanders. Gay rights campaigners, including lesbian groups, clashed with opponents of the bill, who warned of declining morality and the spread of Aids. Despite the unrest, and earlier failed attempts at law reform, the bill passed in 1986, decriminalising homosexuality. Find out more here.
- ‘A closet is a very dangerous place to be … The more visibility we have, the safer, the stronger our community will be.’
- Alison Laurie, activist, 1985
‘Homophobic New Zealand’
For three-quarters of the 20th century, ‘coming out’ was a daunting decision for most gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in New Zealand. Discrimination was all but inevitable. Sex between men was illegal, and many of the ‘guilty’ faced prison, with possible flogging and hard labour. Some people left the country for more accepting communities.
In 1963, the legal sub-committee of the Dorian Society – a social club for homosexual men – formed the Homosexual Law Reform Society. It challenged the illegality of sex between men, but its voice went unheard.
During the more liberal 70s, gay-rights activists, including lesbian groups, became more visible and vocal. Nevertheless, their efforts at law reform also failed.
1985 Homosexual Law Reform Bill
In 1985, junior Member of Parliament Fran Wilde led a new attempt with her Homosexual Law Reform Bill. The bill polarised the nation. Opponents warned of declining morality and the spread of Aids. Rallies, petitions, and ugly confrontations took place.
In 1986, after a close vote – 49 to 44 – in Parliament, the bill passed into law. Sex between consenting men aged 16 and over was now legal.
Human Rights Act 1993
In 1993, the Human Rights Act made discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity illegal. An anti-discrimination provision had been proposed as part of the 1985 Homosexual Law Reform Bill, but was rejected by Parliament in 1986.
By the end of the 20th century, New Zealand society had become accepting enough to vote in openly gay politicians and the world’s first transsexual member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer.