Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986

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Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986
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New Zealand Parliament
  • An Act to amend the Crimes Act 1961 by removing criminal sanctions against consensual sexual conduct between males, and consensual heterosexual anal intercourse, while protecting minors.
Citation1986 No 33
Enacted byHouse of Representatives
Passed9 July 1986[1]
Royal assent11 July 1986[2]
Commenced8 August 1986[2]
Administered byMinistry of Justice
Legislative history
BillHomosexual Law Reform Bill
Bill published on7 March 1985[1]
Introduced byFran Wilde
First reading8 March 1985[1]
Second reading13 November 1985[1]
Third reading9 July 1986[1]
Committee report8 October 1985[1]
Related legislation
Human Rights Act 1993 (New Zealand)
Status: Current legislation

The Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 is a New Zealand law that broadly legalised consensual sex between men as well as anal sex between any parties including opposite-sex partners. It removed the provisions of the Crimes Act 1961 that criminalised this behaviour. The law set an age of consent of 16 for sex between men, the same age as for opposite-sex partners.


Buggery or sodomy became illegal in New Zealand when the country became part of the British Empire in 1840 and adopted English law making male homosexual acts punishable by death. The Offences Against The Person Act of 1867 changed the penalty for buggery from execution to life imprisonment. In 1893 the law was broadened so that all sex between men constituted sexual assault even if it was consensual. Penalties included life imprisonment, hard labour and flogging. Sex between women has never been legally prohibited in New Zealand, but all anal intercourse, including heterosexual, continued to be prior to the 1986 Act.[3]

In 1961 the penalties for male homosexual activity were reduced, reflecting changing attitudes towards homosexuality. Shortly afterward the Dorian Society and later the Wolfenden Association were formed to campaign for legalisation of male homosexual sex. In 1968 a petition signed by 75 prominent citizens and calling for legislative change was presented to (and rejected by) parliament.[3]

The first parliamentary attempt at decriminalisation was made in 1974, with National MP Venn Young's Crimes Amendment Bill. This would have legalised sexual activity between men over the age of 21, but was defeated 34 to 29, with 23 abstentions. Warren Freer proposed similar legislation in 1979 and 1980 but this did not receive support from gay activist groups, who felt that a different age of consent for gay and straight sex would perpetuate discrimination and homophobia.[4]


The Act was introduced by Labour MP Fran Wilde in 1985. The bill originally had two parts. One decriminalised consensual sexual activity between men and consensual heterosexual anal intercourse, while protecting minors of both sexes. The other provided anti-discrimination law protections for lesbians and gay men. The first part passed narrowly (49 Ayes to 44 Noes) on 9 July 1986, after an attempt by opponents to invoke closure and end debate was defeated by one vote the previous week; the bill might have failed if a vote was taken then as several supporters were kept away from Wellington by bad weather. Three National MPs voted for the bill, and other National MPs (including Doug Graham) would have supported the bill if it had been in danger of defeat.[3][5]

The second part failed, but was incorporated into a supplementary order paper added to the New Zealand Human Rights Act 1993.

Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 – Third Reading[6]a
Party Voted for Voted against Present (Speaker) Absent
Labour (55)
National (38) - -
Social Credit (2) - - -
Totals 49 44 1 1
a. Political Affiliation of each MP is based on the information from the prior election. The following MPs (who were originally from one of the two main parties) would eventually join or find their own political parties are:
b. National MP Maurice McTigue succeeded the late Labour MP Basil Arthur in a 1985 by-election.
c. Both of these MPs were incorrectly labeled as affiliated with the Labour Party (NZ).


The Act was subject to substantial debate, and faced fierce opposition from Christian political activists such as Keith Hay, Peter Tait and politicians such as Norman Jones (National MP for Invercargill), as well as the Coalition of Concerned Citizens which they created to distribute a petition against the Act. The Coalition of Concerned Citizens presented a petition opposing reform that garnered more than 800,000 signatures, the largest petition in proportion to New Zealand's population up to this point.[7]

While the Coalition of Concerned Citizens threatened electoral reprisals, the Fourth Labour Government was returned for a second term of office, losing only one constituency seat to the National Party Opposition in 1987.

When National MP Lockwood Smith gave his valedictory speech in February 2013 after 30 years in Parliament, he listed voting against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986 as his biggest regret:[8]

I faced the classic dilemma of voting according to my own judgement or the opinion of those I was elected to represent. As a new member, I opted for the latter and I've always regretted it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Queer History New Zealand Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender New Zealand History PART 4 – Before Homosexual Law Reform
  2. ^ a b Queer History New Zealand Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender New Zealand History PART 5 – From Law Reform to the present
  3. ^ a b c Setting the scene: Homosexual Law Reform in New Zealand
  4. ^ Birth of the gay movement – homosexual law reform
  5. ^ Bassett, Michael (2008). Working with David: Inside the Lange Cabinet. Auckland: Hodder Moa. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-86971-094-1.
  6. ^ "Homosexual Law Reform Act". Archived from the original on 31 March 2018.
  7. ^ Brickell, Chris (2019). Gay men’s lives - Gay activism and law reform. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  8. ^ Trevett, Claire (14 February 2013). "Departing veteran tells of regret over gay vote, MMP". The New Zealand Herald. p. A8. Retrieved 14 February 2013.


  • Laurie Guy: Worlds in Collision: The Gay Law Reform Debate in New Zealand: 1960–1986 Wellington: Victoria University Press: 2002: ISBN 0-86473-438-7
  • Laurie Guy: "Evangelicals and the Homosexual Law Reform Debate: 1984-5" Stimulus 13:4 (November 2005): 69–77.[1]
  • History Group, Out and About: Homosexual Law Reform in New Zealand, http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/node/2198.

External links[edit]