6 Jul 2017

Men convicted for homosexual activity receive apology from govt

4:56 pm on 6 July 2017

The Justice Minister has formally apologised to New Zealand men who were convicted in the past for consensual homosexual activity.

National MP Amy Adams speaks at the first reading of the Family and Whanau Violence Legislation Bill.

National MP Amy Adams speaks at the first reading of the Family and Whanau Violence Legislation Bill. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Parliament decriminalised consensual sex between men aged 16 and over in 1986, but convictions for offences before that time remained on record and can appear in criminal history checks.

Advocates for the men say the stigma of the convictions has been devastating for many, but the apology is a step in the right direction.

Amy Adams delivered the apology in Parliament this afternoon, during the first reading of a bill that expunges those historic convictions.

"Today we are putting on the record that this house deeply regrets the hurt and stigma suffered by the many hundreds of New Zealand men who were turned into criminals by a law that was profoundly wrong, and for that, we are sorry."

Ms Adams said it was unimaginable today that New Zealand would criminalise consensual sexual activity between adults.

"Almost four years ago, this Parliament passed [the marriage equality law] to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, and I was proud to vote in favour of it.

"Today is another historic day for the New Zealand gay community and their families, as Parliament formally apologises for the hurt cause by the convictions and takes the first reading of a bill to expunge those convictions."

The Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill will allow men to apply to the Secretary of Justice to have their convictions quashed.

Parliament decriminalised consensual sex between men aged 16 and over in 1986, but convictions for offences before that time remained on record and could appear in criminal history checks.

The bill will allow men to apply to the Secretary of Justice to have their convictions quashed.

During the debate of the bill, Labour's Grant Robertson told the house that the imprisonments, the arrests and the fear did not just ruin lives, it killed people.

"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 that society viewed them as criminals.

"It is for all of that, that we must apologise."

Mr Robertson also added a personal message to all the men who fought for their rights in the face of hate and discrimination.

"I was to say that I respect you, 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.

"But more so than that, next year [my partner] Alf and I will celebrate 20 years of being together and early the next year 10 years of our civil union, and next week we'll get to look after our grandchildren in the school holidays - all things that would have been unimagninable to you."

Both Ms Adams and Mr Robertson received standing ovations after their speeches from the public galleries.

Wiremu Demchick, the organiser of the Campaign to Pardon Gays in Aotearoa, said today was a day to remember the past.

"And for those affected by the previous discrimination and needless harassment by the system, this is an opportunity for them to see the powers at be are willing to extend an olive branch and hopefully improve relations in the future."

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