LGBT rights in New Zealand

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LGBT rights in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Male legal since 1986
(Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986),
female was never criminalized
Gender identity/expression -
Recognition of
Civil unions since 2004,
no same-sex marriage
Adoption Same-sex couples may not adopt jointly
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve
Discrimination protections Human Rights Act 1993 covers sexual orientation and gender identity (see below)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have most of the same rights as other people in New Zealand. At present, the remaining exceptions are the right to adopt children as a couple, and the right to marry. However, New Zealand enacted legislation that permitted civil unions in 2005, which allow couples many of the same rights as married couples. This near-equality is a relatively recent development; sex between men was only decriminalised in 1986.

History and law reform

Homosexual sex became illegal in New Zealand when the country became part of the British Empire in 1840 and adopted British law. In 1893 the law was broadened to outlaw any sexual activity between men. Penalties included life imprisonment, hard labour and flogging. Sex between women has never been legally prohibited in New Zealand.

Attempts to change the law included a petition presented to Parliament by the Dorian Society (the first New Zealand organisation for homosexual men) in 1968, and 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 males over the age of sixteen. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed several years later in amendments to the Human Rights Act.

Gender identity/expression

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 (reference below) to the effect that transgendered people were covered under the 'sex discrimination' provision of the Human Rights Act 1993. Georgina Beyer said when withdrawing her Bill "that's good enough for me".

In 1994, the New Zealand High Court ruled that post-operative transsexuals could marry as their new sex.

Relationships, Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage

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.

Same-sex marriage in New Zealand was refused judicial approval by the Court of Appeal after Quilter v Attorney-General in 1994. However, unlike Australia and much of the United States, New Zealand has also refused to pre-emptively ban same-sex marriage if some future Parliament decided to approve it within an amended Marriage Act 1955. In December 2005, an abortive private members bill failed at its first reading to do so. Same-sex marriage proper and adoption now remains the final barrier before full LGBT formal and substantive equality in New Zealand.


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. Gay men are also not allowed to give blood if they have had sexual intercourse in the past five years. 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 [1].

Adoption and parenting

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 eligible lesbian and gay prospective parents should be enabled to legally adopt. At present, gay Green List MP Kevin Hague has taken over this member's bill, which is currently awaiting being drawn from the ballot for member's bills Parliament holds from time to time. With the recent abolition of the provocation defence, the Adoption Act 1955 has now become the sole remaining area of substantive LGBT-related inequality within New Zealand law.

Many lesbian couples are now raising children in New Zealand. Where these children are conceived through donor (sperm) insemination both of the lesbians are recognised on the children's birth certificates (the birth mother as 'mother', the other mother as 'other parent'). This is following the Care of Children Act 2004, which modified the Status of Children Act 1969 (see Part 2). Fostering and guardianship are also recognised in New Zealand law and regulation, and reproductive technology has been accessible since 1994.

The current status of New Zealand adoption law is that while it is possible for the former coparent to individually adopt the child of her (or his) partner if she (or he)has had predominant parental responsibility during the absence of that partner [1] , it is not similarly possible for a long-term lesbian (or gay) coparent within an ongoing relationship to do likewise, although guardianship orders are available in this context. Ironically, the cited case would have been superseded by the Care of Children Act 2004, given that the children had been parented through donor insemination (see below) [2]

The donor is not recognised as a legal parent in New Zealand law. However, parents and donors can make formal agreements as to how things will work but the Courts do have flexibility as to whether they recognise these agreements or not (see section 41 of the Care of Children Act 2004).

As well, lesbians who may have trouble conceiving using artificial means may be eligible, as other NZ women are, to help through publicly funded in vitro fertilisation (IVF). However, there are conditions on this and every woman needing IVF are scored as to their eligibility.

Criminal Justice

New Zealand has a hate crimes clause which includes sexual orientation and gender identity- Section 9(1)(h) of the Sentencing and Parole Act 2004, although it has not yet been invoked in the context of an antigay hate crime. More recently, New Zealand LGBT communities were concerned about the continued existence of the provocation defence (Section 169 of the Crimes Act (NZ) 1961) argument which they held had mitigated the seriousness of homophobic homicides through reducing probable, intentional murder convictions to the lesser charge and penalty of manslaughter (see gay panic defence). However, New Zealand's Parliament abolished that contentious clause on November 26, 2009. Apart from the New Zealand Law Society, the repeal bill received overwhelming parliamentary and public support. Apart from ACT New Zealand, all other New Zealand parliamentary parties backed reform (116-5) [3] [4]


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.

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 considered a private matter. 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. There are several other current openly gay 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.

Pride events

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 created 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.

Another LGBT event is the Big Gay Out, a family event which is held annually in Auckland at Pt Chevalier's Coyle Park, the numbers of people attending has risen steadily over the past few years and includes appearances from the current Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposing Party and many other politicians showing their support for the LGBT community.

Realm of New Zealand

Although anti discrimination laws and civil unions apply in New Zealand, these do not apply in the territories of Niue, Tokelau or the Cook Islands due to their separate legislatures. Sodomy remains a crime in the Cook Islands, although in Niue and Tokelau the sodomy laws were repealed from the Niue Act in 2007. Sections 170 and 171 that mention buggery have been repealed.[5]

See also


  1. Application by RH to adopt RTH (Family Court Napier A, 13/84
  2. Re an application by T [1998] New Zealand Family Law Reports 769-775
  3. New Zealand Law Commission: The Partial Defence of Provocation: Wellington: NZLC: 2007
  4. John Hartevelt: "Parliament scraps defence of provocation" Christchurch Press: 27.11.09:
  5. Niue Amendment Act 2007


External links


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