GAYNZ.COM ARCHIVED ARTICLE
Title: What If New Zealand LGBT history had been different? Credit: Craig Young Comment Wednesday 24th January 2007 - 12:00pm1169593200 Article: 1557 Rights
 
GayNZ.com's political commentator Craig Young ponders what might have been if the world of politics and social change in New Zealand had taken a different course. The social construction of gender and sexuality would have been very different if Aotearoa had never been colonised by anyone other than Maori, or if the Chinese, Dutch or French had beaten the British here in 1840 or beforehand. And then there's British nineteenth century history to ponder. If Britain had never passed the Labouchere amendment, then would British and British colonial societies have experienced the same forms of criminalisation and social exclusion that befell gay men and lesbians in the nineteenth century, often continuing into the twentieth? Unfortunately, these questions lie beyond the scope of this more modest article. I've had to be considerably morerestrained and restrict myself to the rise of the second wave of LGBT activism, which first reached New Zealand in the early sixties, and continued to the present day. So, could recent LGBT history have been different, and if so, how? Well, homosexual law reform might well have occurred earlier if New Zealand political history had been different. Apart from his death penalty stance, Early '70s National party leader and Prime Minister Jack Marshall was a relative social liberal, and if he'd been able to fight off a challenge from Rob Muldoon for control over the National Party, the seventies might not have been such a wretched authoritarian decade with all its attacks on civil liberties and human rights, as it was. And if the psychiatric profession had had more rigorous analytical tools at their disposal, they might not have accepted conservative religious views about homosexuality and lesbianism masquerading as clinical findings in the forties, and not contributed to medical injuries to lesbians and gay men from inappropriate early psychopharmaceuticals or indiscriminately applied electroconvulsive therapy. If there had been no 1973 oil shock or Springbok Tour, and if Bill Rowling had won either the 1975 or 1981 New Zealand General Elections as a result, or if one of the (flawed) partial decriminalisation bills of the seventies or early eighties had passed into law, gay men (and possibly, lesbians)might not have been as fortunate as we eventually were. For one thing, such flawed decriminalisation was based on the Wolfenden Report of the late fifties, which had resulted in a seriously constricted regime that beset gay men with a seriously discriminatory age of consent at twenty one, penalties for multiple sexual partners, maintained criminal penalties for gay men in Northern Ireland, and banned gay relationships within the armed services. It took over three decades to expand those boundaries within the United Kingdom. If New Zealand had followed that model, we might have had to fight subsequent cases against discriminatory age of consent laws, criminalisation of lesbian sex between sixteen to eighteen years of age, restrictions against multiple sexual partners, exemptions for educators within anti-discrimination laws, and so on. Much would have depended on how weakened the Christian Right might have been. If Marshall had been Prime Minister during the seventies, then he may have realised how dangerous it was for National to keep pandering to the Christian Right, as Bolger did in the mid-eighties. Given his pro-choice stance on abortion, Marshall might have stood his ground and the abortion debate might have ended in an earlier victory for the pro-choice movement here than it did in the early eighties. With a weakened SPUC, the Christian Right would have been less able to fight off homosexual law reform than it was in the mid-eighties. Perhaps the most poignant 'counterfactual' for many gay men might be 'what if HIV/AIDS had never existed?' Granted, gay men and others wouldn't have lost partners, friends or family members to the epidemic, but in the absence of HIV/AIDS as an impetus for decriminalisation in New Zealand, would it have followed the flawed Wolfenden model, as above? What if homosexual law reform hadn't occurred in 1986? It may surprise some to learn that I don't envisage a brutal jackbooted Christian Reconstructionist religious dictatorship ruling New Zealand after a theocratic coup d'etat. Momentum was on our side, and if National had been seen to favour the Christian Right even more overtly than it did, it might have ended up losing the New Zealand 1987 General Election by a greater margin than it did, dooming the Bolger ascendancy. Some conservative Labour MPs might also have suffered if they'd played any role in a knife-edge defeat. New Zealand society was changing, and the eventual victory of homosexual law reform was one element of that transformation to a professional, evidence-governed mode of political leadership. I suspect homosexual law reform would still have happened, but slightly later, and with a greater margin than it did in 1986. If there'd been no 1987 crash, then Lange and Douglas might not have fallen out, and economic prosperity might have led to a third term of office, although the case for antidiscrimination laws had mostly been made by the early nineties. Passage of the Human Rights Act 1993 might have occurred either slightly earlier or at the same time that it did in our particular historical sequence of events. It might even have included the transgender communities if Labour had still been in office, rather than National. Even more intriguingly, if Geoff Palmer had had an easier time of it, New Zealand might now have a written constitution akin to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, instead of an unentrenched Bill of Rights. Given Canadian social progress attributable to Charter court challenges, that might've had a major impact on LGBT rights, accelerating social changes like civil unions, adoption reform and relationship recognition relative to our own world. On the other hand, what if the Christian Coalition (of Capill's CHP and Graeme Lee's Christian Democrats) had just managed to pass the five percent MMP list threshold, and been represented as part of a centre-right coalition? Given that the Christian Heritage Party threatened to hold any such government to ransom over Christian Right dogma, it would not have been particularly stable. The CHP weren't pragmatists, and if they'd misbehaved, the casualty might have been MMP. Or it might have led to a three-way coalition between Labour, the Alliance and New Zealand First, perhaps similarly unstable. Other governing scenarios lead to further considerations. What if the Alliance had never suffered as a result of the Anderton/Carten schism in 2002, and it still existed as a parliamentary party, or if Labour and the Greens had come to a pre-election settlement over genetically modified crops? Would prostitution law reform and civil unions have passed with greater parliamentary margins than they did? Would we now be celebrating adoption reform? If the electorate had been tighter, United Future would never have been able to enter Parliament under stealth as it did in 'our' 2002. National might have fared slightly better despite Englishs incompetent leadership, and retained a more balanced caucus of social liberals and social conservatives. Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men suggests a darker more recent scenario. What would have happened if National had won the last general election in September 2005? Would we now be fighting a repeal campaign against National's bloc vote for the Copeland same sex marriage ban bill, or against a civil union repeal referendum? Or would Hager's revelations have led to the collapse of any such government? History consists of a flux of social changes wrought by social movements, advances in professional practice and their impact on public policy and consequent electoral fortunes. It's an interesting exercise to speculate on how different LGBT social and political history might have been, faced with the above. Is our current world the best of all possible outcomes, or should we be thankful that some possible pasts didn't occur? Unfortunately, short of another counterfactual volume from Victoria University, or a suitably motivated New Zealand science fiction and/or LGBT author, we might never know. Recommended: Laurie Guy: Worlds in Collision: The Gay Debate in New Zealand: 1960-1986: Wellington: Victoria University Press: 2002. [Bear in mind that this was written by an evangelical Christian, although his views appear to have liberalised since this work was completed]. Nicky Hager: The Hollow Men: Nelson: Craig Potton: 2006. Patrick Higgins: The Heterosexual Dictatorship: Homosexuality in Postwar Britain: London: Fourth Estate: 1995. Steven Levine (ed) New Zealand As It Might Have Been: Wellington: Victoria University Press: 2006. Geoff Palmer: Unbridled Power? An Interpretation of New Zealand's Constitution and Government: Auckland: Oxford University Press: 1987. Robert Wintemute and Mads Andenaes (ed) Legal Recognition of Same Sex Partnerships: Oxford: Hart: 2001. Craig Young - 24th January 2007    
 
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