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Gays, lesbians and transgendered people (LGBT) have most of the same rights as heterosexuals in New Zealand. The two major exceptions as of 2007 are the right to adopt children as a couple, and the right to marry, although civil unions allow "unioned" couples many of the same rights as married couples. This near-equality is a relatively recent development; homosexual sex was only decriminalised in 1986.
Homosexual Law ReformEdit
Homosexual sex has been legal in New Zealand since the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986. Prior to that, attempts to change the law had failed, including steps taken by National Member of Parliament, Venn Young, in 1974. In 1986, the Crimes Act was changed with the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, removing the offence of consensual sex between men over the age of sixteen. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed several years later in amendments to the Human Rights Act.
New Zealand does not have specific transgender anti-discrimination laws, although New Zealand's anti-discrimination laws are now thought to cover members of the trans communities. The Human Rights Commission in New Zealand said in 2005 that it considered transgendered people to fall within the definition of sex discrimination, and would accept complaints from trans-people. Transsexual Member of Parliament Georgina Beyer had the Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill ready for debate in Parliament as a member's bill in 2004. However, on August 16, 2006, New Zealand's Solicitor-General issued an opinion to the effect that transgendered people were covered under the 'sex discrimination' provision of the Human Rights Act 1993. In New Zealand, the Solicitor-General plays an important role in determining the interpretation of the law for government agencies, and Georgina Beyer said when withdrawing her Bill "that's good enough for me".
The Property (Relationships) Act 2000 gives de facto couples, whether opposite or same sex, the same property rights as existed since 1976 for married couples on the break-up of a relationship. Original proposals saw only straight de facto couples covered, but the eventual change on the law covered all couples, gay or straight.
The Civil Union Act 2004 established the institution of civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The Act is very similar to the Marriage Act with "marriage" replaced by "civil union". The following year, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bills were passed to remove discriminatory provisions from most, although not all, legislation.
The Human Rights Act 1993 outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Initially this law exempted government activities until the year 1999. In 1998 an Amendment Bill was introduced making this exemption permanent. This was abandoned following a change of government in 1999. The new Labour government instead passed another Amendment Act to apply the Human Rights Act to government activities, and also to create a new ability for the Courts to "declare" legislation inconsistent with the Act.
The Royal New Zealand Navy and the Police are amongst many government agencies to have adopted "gay-friendly" policies.
Some examples of discrimination are still reported. In January 2006, news headlines were made by a sperm bank's policy of refusing donations from gay men. Homosexual men are also not allowed to give blood. In March 2006, the former policy was amended and the latter is being reviewed. Reportedly some heterosexual male sperm donors have vetoed the use of their gametes for lesbians who seek artificial insemination .
Adoption and parentingEdit
Currently there are no specific barriers to gay individuals adopting children, except that men cannot adopt female children. However gay couples cannot adopt as couples. In recent years, Government white papers and Law Commission Reports have suggested inclusive reform is advisable, although wider reform of adoption generally appears to be possible.
On May 21, 2006, Green List MP Metiria Turei raised the issue of gay adoption, arguing that New Zealand's Adoption Act 1955 did not meet the complexities of contemporary New Zealand society. She argued following the enactment of the Civil Union Act in particular that lesbian and gay prospective parents should be enabled to legally adopt. As they already have access to reproductive technologies, fostering and guardianship responsibilities and rights, this may lead to an increased profile for that debate. . Her Adoption (Equity) Bill is currently within Parliament's members bill ballot, and may yet be drawn from the ballot and debated.
Gay rights were a major political issue during the Homosexual Law Reform debates, but have subsequently become much less so. The Civil Union Act was opposed by nearly half of Parliament, but in tones much more restrained than that of the Homosexual Law Reform era. The Destiny political party, founded to bring ‘Christian morality’ into politics, received only 0.62% of the party vote in the 2005 general election. Although a significant percentage of the electorate is uncomfortable with what they see as the ‘social engineering’ of civil unions and other gay-friendly legislation, most politicians are careful not to appear overtly homophobic.
There are a number of gay and lesbian Members of Parliament (MPs). The first to be elected was Chris Carter, who became the first openly gay MP when he came out shortly after the 1993 election. He lost his seat in the 1996 election, but won it again in the 1999 election and became New Zealand's first openly gay cabinet minister in 2002. Carter united in Civil union to his long-time partner of thirty three years, Peter Kaiser on February 10, 2007.
Tim Barnett was the first MP to be elected as an openly gay man, in the 1996 election. In 1997, Barnett and Carter started Rainbow Labour as a branch of the Labour Party to represent gay, lesbian, and transgender people within a major mainstream party, the first of its kind in New Zealand.
Maryan Street was New Zealand's first openly lesbian MP, elected in the 2005 election. However, the National Party's Marilyn Waring had preceded Street, and while she was outed at one point, Waring's strong pro-choice identification and vocal feminism overshadowed her lesbianism, which was then ignored. Since she left Parliament in 1984, Waring has more openly acknowledged her sexual orientation. In 2005, Chris Finlayson became the first openly gay National Party MP, elected to Parliament on his party's MMP party list in the 2005 election. Charles Chauvel (Labour) and Louisa Wall (Labour) are the other current gay and lesbian MPs.
Georgina Beyer became the first transsexual mayor in the world when she became the Mayor of Carterton in 1995. In the 1999 election, she became the world's first transsexual MP. She retired from Parliamentary politics on February 14, 2007.
The first gay pride events were held in the 1970s. In the 1990s, the Hero Parade was held annually in Auckland. It was a significant public event which was publicised throughout New Zealand, and which created a significant amount of attention during the period when the Parade was held (1992-2001). The controversy it raised amongst conservative Christians was dwarfed by crowds of extraordinary size by New Zealand standards. The Hero Festival continues but it does not attract as much attention, because there are no longer any Parades.
- New Zealand Law Commission: Adoption: Options for Reform: Wellington: New Zealand Law Commission Preliminary Paper No 38: 1999: ISBN 1-877187-44-5
- New Zealand legislation database
- A chronology of homosexuality in New Zealand
- A history of homosexual law reform in New Zealand (NZHistory.net.nz)
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