When Trevor Mallard holds up his fingers in the House, it might not always be a friendly gesture, but on the night of July the 9th 1986, his gesture of holding up 5 fingers confirmed to supporters in the Gallery that the Homosexual Law Reform Bill had a majority of five and would pass into law. Trevor was the numbers person for Fran Wilde, the Bill’s sponsor. Their work in Parliament, supported by the likes of Ruth Dyson who was working for Fran, and other Parliamentarians was one element of the success of the campaign.
The other was the grassroots movement from right around New Zealand that kept the pressure up for law reform. In Wellington people like Bill Logan, Alison Laurie and David Hindley were the leaders. The marchers were not just gays and lesbians but their families and supporters who withstood awful hate and prejudice to demand the basic right of consenting adults to live their lives free from potential criminal prosecution.
I wasn’t in Parliament that night or in Wellington. I was a 14 year old living in Dunedin. I do remember the campaign on the Bill. My family was active in the Presbyterian Church, and the anti law reform petition did the rounds at a number of church events. I was interested in the outcome of the debate and years later when I was moving out of home I found I had clipped from the newspaper who had voted for and against the Bill, though I have no memory of doing so.
But the real impact for me of the Bill is that it has allowed me to grow up and live my life freely. That is not to say that there is not still discrimination and stigma for gay people, because it is still very real for some people. But for me, sitting here as an MP, I have been able to pursue my dreams and goals, and live my life as I choose in part because of those people in Parliament and outside, who campaigned so hard 25 years ago. It is a curious twist that the fact that I can be an MP and not focus on my sexuality, but on the whole of my beliefs, values and policy is a result of all those who stood up for what was right. I, and many others, owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.
In any case some interesting articles on the anniversary today, including arch opponent of the legislation Geoff Braybrooke even conceding that his “fears” have not materialised. Its true folks, the world did not end and the sky did not fall in!
UPDATE; Some footage from the time in this clip courtesy of NZ On Screen.