6 Jul 2017

Righting an historic wrong

From The House, 10:35 pm on 6 July 2017

Anyone who wants to can petition Parliament to act on almost any issue and it has the ability to make powerful change. 

Last year Wiremu Demchick presented a petition asking Parliament to apologise and wipe the criminal records of men who were convicted for consensual adult sex before the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 came into force.

No caption

Photo: Wikimedia

This month, the House moved to do just that when Justice Minister Amy Adams introduced a bill creating a mechanism  to quash those convictions, and at the same time put forward a motion for the House to vote on:

"That this House apologise to those homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted for consensual adult activity, and recognise the tremendous hurt and suffering those men and their families have gone through, and the continued effects the convictions have had on them."

Justice Minister Amy Adams moved a motion in the House to apologise to homosexual New Zealanders 
who were convicted for consensual adult activity.

Justice Minister Amy Adams moved a motion in the House to apologise to homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted for consensual adult activity. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The motion is not just that the Government apologise, but the whole House. 

It was wrapped into the first reading of the Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill.

Amy Adams said the law criminalising homosexuals was profoundly wrong and the men should never have been burdened with criminal convictions.

"It is never too late to apologise," she said.

"While we cannot ever erase the injustice, this apology is a symbolic, but important, Act that we hope will help address the harm and right this historic wrong."

Ten speeches followed Amy Adam's, with Labour's Grant Robertson taking first turn for the opposition.

"Mr Speaker let us be clear, the illegality of homosexuality, the arrests, the imprisonments and the fear of that happening did not just ruin lives and destroy potential, it killed people."

6 July 2017

Labour MP Grant Robertson speaks on the first reading of a bill to expunge historical criminal convictions of homosexual offences. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

"Hundreds, possibly thousands of lives have been lost because men could not bear the shame, the stigma, and the hurt caused by this Parliament and the way society viewed them as criminals, it is for all of that, that we must apologise."

He added his own personal apology but also paid respects to all the men who suffered.

"I honour you and I stand on your shoulders today. The fact that I, as a gay man, can be out and proud and a member of Parliament is but a small tribute to you," he said.

National MP Paul Foster-Bell said the apology and Bill would restore mana and dignity to the House.

"The persecution of gay men in particular was one of those things that we inherited through our Crimes Act and it was embedded by an Act of this Parliament in 1908, and further embedded in 1961." he said. 

"Frankly in my view those were measures that actually brought shame upon this House and diminished our mana as a legislature which should have pride in being fair minded."

Labour's Annette King also spoke on the bill sharing a story from one of her constituents who was woken at 5am in bed with his partner and arrested.

No caption

Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Her constitutent said both he and his partner were convicted of indecent assault (on each other), and he has never travelled or worked overseas as a result, despite having no other convictions since 1969.

Annette King related being told that he is "haunted by it" and at times feels "unworthy, wondering what people would say about somebody if they knew the charge 'indecent assault on a male' and not understanding what really happened."

6 July 2017

Green MP Marama Davidson acknowledges the people in te ao Maori who "continue to fight to return to what pre-colonised notions of sexuality, homosexuality and whanau is". Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

New Zealand First's Denis O'Rourke said the laws were "evil with tragic effects" and are a fundamental breach of human rights while the Green's Marama Davidson reflected on the lives lost.

"I cannot stand today without thinking about a particular man who was killed for being gay," she said.

"He lost his life and I send my love to his family because the person who stole his life was my family," she said.

"Homophobia has taken too many lives and today it is an honour to put some mana back into the lives that we have taken."

The motion was unanimously agreed to by the House, and the Bill to quash convictions passed its first reading; which means it will now be considered by the Justice and Electoral Committee, who are calling for submissions from the public.

Submissions can be made on the Bill here until the Friday, 18 August.

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to The House

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)