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‘We are sorry for what those men and their families have gone through.’
New Zealand decriminalized gay sex in 1986, but the justice minister is now putting forth a plan to remove convictions from the records of the gay and bisexual men who were found guilty of having same-sex sex before the laws were repealed.
“It means people will be treated as if they had never been convicted and removes the ongoing stigma and prejudice that can arise from convictions for homosexual offenses,” Justice Minister Amy Adams told Deutsche Welle.
These charges appeared in a number of ways, including indecency, sodomy, and providing a place for homosexual acts—all of which has likely impacted the 1,000 or so men eligible under this repeal when they were searching for jobs or attempting to pass background checks.
This plan still needs to be approved by Parliament, but New Zealand lawmakers support it, suggesting it will pass. There are some provisions, of course: The sexual act must have been consensual and must have occurred between people who were 16 years old or older. For people who are already passed, family members can apply on their behalf to have their records amended.
Notably, New Zealand laws never explicitly included sex between two women, so these laws disproportionately impacted queer men.
“There is no doubt that homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted and branded as criminals for consensual activity suffered tremendous hurt and stigma,” Adams said. “We are sorry for what those men and their families have gone through.”
Marissa Higgins is the editor of Green Matters. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, Salon, NPR, and elsewhere.