Search Browse On This Day Map Quotations Timeline Research Free Datasets Remembered About Contact

We did it! But how did we get there?

Sun 10 Jul 2011 In: Hall of Fame View at Wayback View at NDHA

What are some of the factors which combined to put New Zealand in a place where it was able to forge forward and pass the Homosexual Law Reform Bill? Historian and campaigner Alison Laurie explains the ingredients which allowed us to cook up change. Background New Zealand's laws were based on England's, which replaced the death penalty for "buggery" with life imprisonment in 1861. New Zealand followed suit and later made any sexual activity between men illegal in 1893 - men convicted of these offences could also face flogging or whipping and hard labour. It wasn't until the 1950s that change was called for in the UK and consensual sex between men over 21 (in certain circumstances) was decriminalised in 1967. says that in 1959 Attorney General Rex Mason tried unsuccessfully to reduce the criminal sanctions on some homosexual activity, apparently as a result of the suicide of a gay friend. Life imprisonment for sodomy was removed in 1961, but legal sanctions remained. The Dorian Society, founded in 1962, was the first New Zealand organisation for gay or "kamp" men and made the first push for law reform. Explosion of ideas As the Baby Boomer generation came of the age in the 1960s, there was what Dr Alison Laurie describes as an "explosion of ideas" throughout the world, ideas which were suddenly communicated better than technology had ever allowed before thanks to transistor radios and television, and the fact travel was more accessible. America became a major influence on New Zealand during and after World War II, and had increased presence through the likes of music and comics, and it soon experienced a huge increase in interest in civil rights. Dr Laurie says this began with black civil rights, and moved very quickly into women's liberation and gay liberation, ideas which travelled to New Zealand rapidly and came to a head in the 1970s. "Part of what's happening in the 60s and through into the 70s is a breakdown in gender differences. If you look at newspapers and magazines of the time you'll find all these old fogies saying 'you can't tell the difference between the boys and the girls', because young men are wearing their hair long, they're wearing beads and kaftans, and the women are wearing similar kinds of gear and everyone's wearing jeans." There were plenty of drugs around, she adds, and the licensing laws were liberalised so women could socialise in bars. "And so there's a massive social change," she says, which came with the kind of elation and euphoria that change was possible. "This is one of the periods in history I think is very important. A whole lot of things come together and people think that change is possible. And they also think they're going to affect it." Dr Laurie says the Vietnam War was a platform for organising and music was hugely influential: "You've got things like Bob Dylan with The Times They Are a-Changin' and things like this which become hugely important in terms of a whole generation that basically are renouncing a whole lots of values that have been before, particularly in the war movement - there's a big generational divide over that, particularly the guys who have come back from War World II and a whole new generation who are anti-war." The arrival of gay lib Alison Laurie pinpoints 1972 as the point where gay lib sprang up in New Zealand, after academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku was denied a visitor's permit to the USA on the grounds that she was a 'known homosexual'. A meeting was called at Auckland University in response and Te Awekotuku was then invited to speak on campuses Wellington and Christchurch. "Gay liberation started and very rapidly spread," Laurie says, adding there was an equal number of men and women involved, as people saw the connection between all kinds of oppression. Gay men and lesbians were suddenly socialising more as gender breakdowns occurred and bars dropped men-only rules. Dr Laurie says gay lib was about 'bringing out the gay man and lesbian in everybody's head', it was about social construction rather than biological essentialist ideas. Laurie says this was particularly true for lesbians, as women's music took off with songs with titles such like Every Woman Can Be a Lesbian among the hits - and the DPB allowing women to leave unsatisfactory marriages with a means of support in 1974. "This really empowered a lot of women to make different choices in their lives," Dr Laurie says. "That generation of people clearly saw the connection between women's liberation and gay liberation. Inasmuch that in a society where women are treated badly, gay men will be treated badly, because they will be seen as behaving like women." Dr Laurie says while younger gay men and lesbians were generally getting along nicely, gay liberation exploded with such a fury and caused turbulence due to the 'outrageous' young gay people who were 'public'. Conservative feminists were worried about being labelled lesbians, Dr Laurie says, "while conservative gay men who had never worked with women started thinking that the women should make the coffee and do the typing, and obviously the men should make the speeches. That didn't go down too well," she laughs. Some women stayed in gay lib groups, while from 1973 others left and created of lesbian groups of their own and lesbian clubs and magazines were set up: "Which doesn't mean the women don't any longer work with men. Because what is then set up is the National Gay Rights Coalition (NGRC, which is hugely important, it's an umbrella group – 33 lesbian and gay groups are members of it." Though it was short-lived (it disbanded in 1983), the group had a major impact. So while there were some misunderstandings and ructions along the way, gay men and lesbians ultimately worked side by side on Homosexual Law Reform. Dr Laurie says lesbians clearly saw decriminalising male homosexuality as being in their own interests, "because when one kind of homosexuality is criminalised, every other form of sexuality is also stigmatised. And lesbians were badly treated – there were ways of getting lesbians. And many police though they ought to be able to get lesbians because they thought 'how come they can get away scot-free?'" Paving the road for change The mid-70s was when the campaign for law reform slowly picked up steam. In 1974 MP Venn Young introduced a Crimes Amendment Bill in 1974 to legalise private 'homosexual acts' between consenting adults (over 20), which ultimately failed. The issue of the age of consent was a bitter one. The gay rights movement wanted it to be set at 16, the same as the age of consent for straight people. MP Warren Freer proposed legislation in 1979 and 1980 that set the age of consent at 20 or 18, and says gay groups gave it no support. "Instead, the gay movement made its own amendments to legislation. The Equality Bill, promoted under the slogan 'The people approve. A Bill is ready. Why delay?', proved to be controversial within the movement and was abandoned in 1983," the site says. In 1984 the push for change was really chugging along. The period from 1984 until victory in 1986 was one of crucial hard slog ... tbc will follow this feature up with the insightful Dr Laurie's thoughts on what we can learn from the past as we forge onwards, while she will also be part of a wider feature on the role women played in Homosexual Law Reform.     Jacqui Stanford - 10th July 2011

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Sunday, 10th July 2011 - 11:33am

Rights Information

This page displays a version of a article that was automatically harvested before the website closed. All of the formatting and images have been removed and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. The article is provided here for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us