In a powerful move, New Zealand lawmakers have apologised to hundreds of men who were convicted for homosexuality when it was still illegal.
On Thursday, the country’s parliament unanimously agreed to a bill introduced by Justice Minister Amy Adams, which will also allow for related criminal records to be expunged.
“Today we are putting on the record that this House deeply regrets the hurt and stigma suffered by the many hundreds of New Zealand men who were turned into criminals by a law that was profoundly wrong, and for that we are sorry,” she said.
“We are acknowledging that these men should never have been burdened with criminal convictions,” Adams added. “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.”
As is customary on important occasions in New Zealand, her speech was followed by a Maori song or ‘waiata’.
The effects of criminalising homosexuality will remain
While homosexuality was legalised in 1986, those who were convicted of consensual gay sex retained their criminal records. It is believed that around 1,000 men will now be able to have their convictions erased.
Each individual will have to apply for the expunction to confirm that their conviction was for consensual sex. At the time, the law did not differentiate between consensual and non consensual gay sex.
Other countries, including the UK, have recently moved to clear the criminal records of men who were convicted of consensual gay sex in the past. Germany will also be paying compensation to the victims.
The New Zealand LGBT group Rainbow Wellington said it welcomed the apology by the government and expressed “sorrow for all the victims of this unjust law and [hope] that with this historical apology, a small part of their defamed human dignity will be restored.”
The organisation, however, noted that the law’s effects will continue for the victims “as there is still shame attached to the homophobic ordeals through which they suffered”.
In 2013, New Zealand became the 13th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. It was also the first nation in the Asia-Pacific region to give its gay and lesbian citizens the right to marry.