Parliament apologises for homosexual convictions
Parliament has formally apologised to men convicted under old laws that criminalised homosexuality.
The rare apology from the House - rather than the Government itself - was moved by Justice Minister Amy Adams during the first reading of her bill to expunge these convictions.
Before the law was reformed in 1986 consensual sex between adult men was illegal. Even after the change, those charged kept their criminal record and faced huge discrimination and problems obtaining employment.
"Today we're putting on the record that this house deeply regrets the hurt and stigma that was suffered by the hundreds of men who were turned into criminals," Adams said.
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"We're acknowledging that these men should never have been burdened with criminal convictions, and we are recognising the continual effect that these convictions have had on their lives and the lives of their families."
"It is never too late to apologise. While we cannot ever erase the injustice this apology is a symbolic but important act that we hope will help address the harm and right this historic wrong."
Following Adams' speech a waiata was sung from the public gallery.
Labour's Grant Robertson paid tribute to those who fought for decriminalisation and those who were convicted.
"I stand on your shoulders today. The fact that I as a gay man can be out and proud as a member of Parliament is but a small tribute to you," Robertson said.
"Let us be clear: the illegality of homosexuality, the arrests, the imprisonments and the fear of that happening did not just ruin lives and destroy potential - it killed people. Hundreds, possibly thousands of lives have been lost because men could not bear the shame, the stigma, and the hurt caused by this Parliament."
Labour's Annette King, who voted for homosexual law reform in 1986, said it had been 31 long years of waiting for the men and their families to have their convictions wiped.
"31 years on since a politician in this house told gay men to go back to the sewers where they belong," King recalled.
"31 years since consensual sex stopped being a criminal offence with terms of imprisonment."
"There are very few of us left in the House who supported homosexual law reform back in 1986. Trevor Mallard, Peter Dunne, and myself are the last remaining members who voted for that bill."
NZ First leader Winston Peters was present in Parliament but voted against decriminalisation.
King said she was sorry that these convictions were not expunged during Labour's last government.
National's Paul Foster Bell said he was proud that his party was pushing this expungement scheme forward.
The Green Party's Marama Davidson spoke about her homophobic uncle, who she said took the life of a gay man.
"Today it is an honour to put some mana back into the the lives that we have taken," Davidson said.
"I want to send my love to the family of the young man whose life was taken by my uncle. We lost two men to homophobia."
Every party has been offered a chance to speak during the apology.
THE EXPUNGEMENT SCHEME
Adams' Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill was announced in February and introduced to Parliament in late June.
It will set up a system where men charged with consensual homosexual conduct (or their families) under old laws can apply to have those convictions wiped from the record.
The Justice Ministry believes there are around 1000 of these men still alive.
It is the first ever "expungement scheme" introduced in New Zealand.
The move to expunge the convictions came after a petition was presented to MPs last year.
When Adams introduced the legislation she indicated she would speak to other political parties about the motion of apology.
"It's Parliament apologising and reflecting the fact that we now recognise that that legal framework was inappropriate," Adams said.
"It gives Parliament a chance to express its regret."
The initial bill features no allowance for compensation, something both Adams and Prime Minister Bill English have ruled out.
Veteran activist Bill Logan and Robertson both called for some compensation to be included - as it was in a similar expungement scheme in Germany.
Adams maintains that compensation in New Zealand is only for wrongful convictions, not convictions for breaking laws that society now considers immoral.