John Jolliff, left, and Des Smith, the first New Zealand gay couple to have a civil union | Ross Giblin/The Dominion Post | 14215
In July 1986, New Zealand legalised gay relationships and decriminalised homosexuality.
“Fran Wilde, the Labour MP who introduced the bill allowing consensual sex between males aged 16 and over, says she received death threats, pro-bill campaigners were abused, beaten up and spat on, and the presentation of an 800,000-signature petition against the bill turned the steps of Parliament into a scene from the Nuremberg Rallies.
There were slagging matches in Parliament. Staunch anti-bill campaigner and Hauraki MP Graeme Lee said the bill getting to select committee stage was “a dark day in the history of our nation”. His colleague Norman Jones, then MP for Invercargill, argued against the bill by saying “if God had wanted to propagate the human race through the rear, he’d have put the womb down here”.
Though the law prohibiting homosexual sex was rarely enforced, there was always the fear for gay men that it would be. If you went to a gay bar for example, there was a high possibility you could be hounded by police. Workers lived in fear that they might be sacked if their sexuality was revealed. And there was the spectre of potential imprisonment.
Before the bill was passed, many homosexual men kept their sexuality a secret, but many found the course of the campaign a catalyst for coming out. Lesbianism was never illegal – it was sex between men, not women, that was a criminal act.
The atmosphere in Parliament on the night of July 9, 1986, was tense and pro-bill supporters were uncertain the legislation would go through. They packed the gallery. When the bill was passed by 49 votes to 44, there was jubilation. A lone opponent shouted that Parliament was wicked. When he was removed from Parliament, Sir Robert Muldoon barked that the Speaker should “remove the poofs too!” One bill supporter ran outside to the band of Catholic women who had held an anti-bill vigil on the grounds outside, and thanked them for their efforts.”