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Obituary: David Lange (1942-2005)

Tue 16 Aug 2005 In: Features

David Lange Unlike most of the other obituaries I've written over the last couple of years, this one affects me deeply. On Sunday, David Lange died from end-stage kidney failure due to complications from diabetes. Elsewhere on the web and general media, one can read about his early personal life and public opposition to nuclear weapons within New Zealand. However, that is not what many fortysomething gay men will remember him for. After the long stalinist twilight of Muldoonism, finally we had a Prime Minister whose formative experiences paralleled our own. We turned our backs on South African apartheid, banned nuclear weapons from our country...and decriminalised male homosexuality. True, it was Fran Wilde who moved the private members bill that did so, but he supported it, and encouraged her to continue, despite the abuse and hysteria from the Christian Right of that time. The Homosexual Law Reform Act was finally passed in 1986 after eighteen months of acrimonious debate, and secured us decriminalisation with an equal age of consent. While anti-discrimination protections were jettisoned, they returned in 1993. By then, Lange had resigned and Labour had been defeated in a backlash against its hardline monetarist policies and massive unemployment after the 1987 stock market crash. However, Lange and Labour did leave us a legacy - they started us on the road to the series of incremental reforms that led to our current Civil Union Act and acquisition of relationship equality. While history can call Lange's legacy mixed, he helped to free gay men in this country from continued criminal prosecution under the Crimes Act. According to Out magazine at the time, Lange looked up and saw decriminalisation lobbyists in the gallery. He smiled and raised four fingers to show the margin of victory, and that we had won freedom at long last. It would be emblematic of his humanity and compassion and fierce concern for social justice if that were indeed the case. Goodbye, David. A mighty totara has fallen, and our nation is the poorer for our collective loss. We will always remember you for your role in finally freeing us. Recommended Reading: Laurie Guy: Worlds in Collision: The Gay Law Reform Debate in New Zealand 1965-1985: Victoria University Press: 2003. [Okay, it's not a reliable history when it comes to evaluating the submissions for and against homosexual law reform. Until there's a pro-gay detailed history though, it is the only account of the period we've got. Laurie Guy is a Baptist lecturer at Carey Baptist College, so take his observations with a grain of salt.] Craig Young - 16th August 2005    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Tuesday, 16th August 2005 - 12:00pm

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