New Zealand’s parliament has voted unanimously to pass legislation allowing men with historical gay convictions to have them expunged from their criminal records.
The country decriminalised homosexuality in 1986, but convictions for consensual gay sex offences still remain on many men’s criminal records, potentially affecting their employment and travel. On Tuesday night MPs passed a bill that allows the men to apply for them to be expunged.
Justice Minister Andrew Little said, “Thirty-two years ago, Parliament rightly decriminalised offences that had the effect of stigmatising gay men but some have lived with the consequences of those convictions ever since.
“On behalf of this House and all members who have passed through it since it was established, we say sorry to those men who have carried the stigma and the shame of doing nothing other than expressing their love for the person that they did love, and for the families who shared that shame and embarrassment.”
The expungement scheme will allow the affected men or a representative for them to apply to the Secretary of Justice to have the convictions wiped. Officials have estimated as many as 1000 New Zealand men would be eligible.
Openly gay MP Grant Robertson (pictured) told the parliament he had been moved by the stories of men who had written to him who were affected by the law, and said the arrests, imprisonment and fear of the era had claimed the lives of countless others.
“This law was and is wrong… The fact that we can expunge the convictions today is a mighty step forward, but that constant fear and the reminder of the worthlessness and shame of your mere existence isn’t something we can put away so easily, because it echoes through the generations,” he said.
He told the parliament there was still more work to be done for New Zealand’s LGBTIQ community.
“We shouldn’t be naive. If you’re a young trans person growing up in rural New Zealand today, your life’s not easy,” he said.
“You’re likely to feel the stigma and the hurt that these men felt. Actually, if you’re a young gay man you will still feel the same. Not every school in our country is a safe place if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex.”
In July 2016, on the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation, a 2100-signature petition by LGBTI rights campaigner Wiremu Demchick was handed to Parliament asking for an official apology to those with the historical convictions.
The expungement legislation was introduced last year by former Justice Minister Amy Adams, who last July delivered an apology to the LGBTIQ community on behalf of the parliament.
The apology tabled in the parliament at the time read, “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.”