Milestones: Legal Status and Sexual Orientation/Identity

1837: William Yate, a Church Missionary Society worker who lived peaceably with his male companion for two years in the Māori village of Waimate, was removed from his duties upon evidence of his homosexual activities with an English sailor as well as several male Māori youths at the Bay of Islands.  

1858: English Laws Act enforces in New Zealand all English laws as of 14 January 1840, including the law that acts of sodomy are "unnatural."

1867: The English Parliament replaced the death penalty for buggery with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment in 1861. New Zealand enacted similar legislation six years later. Consent is no defence.

1893: Any sexual activity between men of any age became unlawful in England in 1885, and New Zealand followed suit in 1893. Typically, sentences of one or two years’ hard labour were imposed for offences other than sodomy. Men found guilty of sodomy could still be flogged, and serve their term of imprisonment with hard labour, in the 1940s and 1950s.

1921: Macquisten Amendment attempted to add "acts of gross indecncy by females" to 1885 Act. Defeated in the House of Lords.

1941: Crimes Amendment Act 1941 removed the punishment of flogging from New Zealand law, retaining life imprisonment for sodomy.

1959: Attorney-General Rex Mason tried unsuccessfully to reduce the criminal sanctions on some homosexual activities. Two years earlier a report by the Wolfenden Committee to the British Parliament recommended decriminalising private consenting homosexual behaviour.

1961: The Crimes Act 1961 removed the potential term of life imprisonment for sodomy, but all legal sanctions against homosexual activity remained. This was the first time lesbianism is introduced into New Zealand law., criminalising sexual relations between women over twenty-one and girls under sixteen. The Crimes Act also removes flogging and whipping as penalties.

1962: New Zealand's first social club for homosexual men, the Dorian Society, formed in Wellington. A year later a legal subcommittee of theDorian Society formed to work on law reform.

1964: Charles Aberhart, a 37-year-old drapery store manager of Blenheim, was killed in Hagley Park, Christchurch, the victim of a gay hate crime. The six teenagers who admitted they were in search of someone to beat up were acquitted of his murder. 

1967: The Sexual Offenses Act abolished total prohibition of homosexual acts in England. Age of consent was set at 20, as opposed to 16 years for heterosexual acts. The New Zealand Wolfenden Association was founded (soon changing its name to the NZ Homosexual Law Reform Society).

1971: First feminist magazine, "Up From Under", was produced by Wellington Women's Liberation Front. and on 19 September 1971, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku led a women's liberation protest in a Suffrage Day of Mourning. In a Gallery TV interview, she described herself as "a sapphic woman" and says lesbians have been in the vanguard of women s struggles for centuries. From 1971-1972 Gay Liberation groups sprang up in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, e.g., The KG [Kamp Girls] Club, a social club for lesbians, established in private homes in Auckland, then in premises in Karangahape Rd, Beach Rd, Hereford St Ponsonby, and Albert St. Other groups formed around the country over the next few years.

1972: In March the US refused a visa to Ngahuia Te Awekotuku who was described as a "known sexual deviant." Three years later the U.S. granted her a multiple entry visa to pursue her PhD. The first national Women's Liberation conference was held in April. Some women walk out of the first programme, delivered by a lesbian. In June, the first Gay Week was celebrated. The feminist magazine Broadsheet started up in Auckland in July and lasts until July 1997.

1973: SHE (Sisters for Homophile Equality) was the first national lesbian organisation. The first Gay Pride Week and march in New Zealand took place.

1974: Venn Young (National, Waitotara) introduced the Crimes Amendment Bill, with an age of consent of 21 in July. Defeated in July 1975.

1975: Robin Duff stood in General Election in November as an openly gay candidate, Christchurch Central. Not successful.

1976: Carmen (Carmen Tione Rupe, Te Arawa) stood in the Wellington mayoral election as the first transgendered candidate in the world. Not successful. 

1977: Parliament refused to include sexual orientation as grounds for protection against discrimination in the new Human Rights Commission Act. On 1 July 1977 New Zealand celebrated the first nationally coordinated Gay Pride Week. A National Gay Rights Coalition was founded in the late 1970s but disbanded in 1983. 

1979: Warren Freer (Labour, Mt Albert) introduced a Crimes Amendment Bill with an age of consent of 20. The Bill is conservative and not supported by many gay organisations. Lacking support, the Freer Bill is abandoned June 1980.

1985: Labour MP Fran Wilde consulted with gay groups to develop a private member’s bill, the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, which she introduced to the House of Representatives on 8 March. It included two parts: (1) decriminalisation of male-male sex and consensual herterosexual anal intercourse, and (2) making it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. It also tried to raise the age of consent to 18, but it remained at 16 in the final legislation – the same age as for heterosexuals. The Homosexual Law Reform Act, which was signed by the governor-general on 11 July 1986, came into effect on 8 August. This law decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 and over. The second part of the bill, which would have removed discrimination on the basis of sexuality, was rejected.

1991: Immigration policy changed to include those identified as same-sex partners to gain residence in New Zealand.

1993: Not until the Human Rights Act was passed in 1993 did it became illegal in New Zealand to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Government exempted itself from the law until 31 December 1999. On 23 December 1993 Chris Carter (Labour, Te Atatu) came out soon after his election, the first openly gay MP.

1994: High Court ruled in December that post-operative transsexuals can marry in their adopted sex. Serving openly in NZ military became legal.

1995: Georgina Beyer, a transexual, was elected Mayor of Carterton on October 21.

1996: NZ Census forms were constructed to be able to count same-sex partners. First MMP General Election. Openly gay MP Chris Carter (Labour, Te Atatu) defeated, but Tim Barnett (Labour, Christchurch Central), first to campaign as openly gay, was elected.

1997: World's first Intersex Centre opened in Wellington. The Intersex Society of NZ (Aotearoa) was founded by Mani Bruce Mitchell.

1998: Transsexual Jacqui Grant (the "Tranny Granny") of Moana, West Coast, was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM) for her work with children.

2004: Takatāpui, first shown on Māori Television in 2004, was probably the first indigenous gay, lesbian and transgender television series in the world. That year, the Civil Unions Act allowed gay and lesbian couples to formalise their relationships with many of the provisions of marriage. 

2005: Relationships (Statutory References) Act 2005 provided consistency for same-sex and de facto couples across a number of existing laws affecting married couples, including superannuation, benefits and inheritance.

2006: The Hon Georgina Beyer withdrew her Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill 2004 which had not received a first reading despite being held over. This was to include in the Human Rights Act 1993 a new prohibited ground of discrimination: "gender identity, which refers to the identification by a person with a gender that is different from the birth gender of that person, or the gender assigned to that person at birth, and may include persons who call themselves transsexual, transvestite, transgender, cross-dresser, or other description."

2008: Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Amendment Act 2004 allowed lesbian mothers and partners to both be reflected on birth certificates.

2011: At the Asia-Pacific Outgames Human Rights Conference, Phylesha Brown-Acton MNZM introduced a Pacific-specific acronym (instead of using western LGBTQIA+ terms): MVPFAFF - Mahu, Vakasalewalewa, Palopa, Fa’afafine, Akava’ine, Fakafifine and Fakaleiti/leiti.

2013: The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act saw New Zealand become the 13th country in the world – and the first in the Asia-Pacific region – to allow same-sex couples to marry. It clarified the meaning of marriage to "the union of 2 people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity." 

2018: Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Act 2018 so "to reduce prejudice, stigma, and all other negative effects, arising from a conviction for a historical homosexual offence."

2021: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 2021 (which comes into effect on 15 June 2023) will allow gender self-identification.

2022: Parliament passed the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Act, banning conversion therapy.

Bibliography and Additional Resources:

N.B. Many thanks to the extensive work of Ruth Ringer, Auckland Libraries Research Centre, for her help in compiling the milestones and bibliography.

To read more articles from The Circular (Nov-Dec 2022) issue 638, click on the tag below.
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