Homosexual law reform

Page 1 – Introduction

20 years out!

'Go back into the sewers where you come from!', was the advice of one New Zealand politician to homosexuals. The comment summed up one side of the bitter public and political debate that swept New Zealand in the mid-1980s during the campaign for homosexual law reform. On the other side of the issue, gay men and women were urged to 'come out now ... be visible ... be blatant.'

The Homosexual Law Reform Act, which was signed by the governor-general on 11 July 1986 and came into effect on 8 August, decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 and over. No longer would men having consensual sex with each other be liable to prosecution and a term of imprisonment. Sex between women was not illegal, but many lesbians suffered the same social discrimination as gay men and so were staunch supporters of reform.

The campaign to reform the law extended beyond the gay community to wider issues of human rights and discrimination. Extreme viewpoints ensured a lengthy and passionate debate. The outcome would mean that gays and lesbians could be out and about – or that the New Zealand family would crumble and AIDS would spread through the community.

'20 years out!' Homosexual law reform in New Zealand

To mark the 20th anniversary of homosexual law reform in New Zealand, Radio New Zealand added rare audio recordings to its website. The rich assortment of audio was drawn from ‘20 years out!’, a documentary broadcast on National Radio on 9 July 2006, the 20th anniversary of the final vote in Parliament.

Much of the protest and rally audio was originally recorded for Access Radio programmes made by the Gay Broadcasting Collective and had not previously been broadcast nationally. There are also reflections by gay men who faced discrimination during the controversy.

Listen to the recording at www.radionz.co.nz/national/documentaries/20yearsout

How to cite this page

'Homosexual law reform in New Zealand', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/homosexual-law-reform/homosexual-law-reform, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 3-Jun-2022