In New Zealand’s Parliament earlier this week, the following resolution was passed
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Trevor Mallard): The question is that this House apologise to those homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted for consensual adult activity, and recognise the tremendous hurt and suffering those men and their families have gone through, and the continued effects the convictions have had on them.
Motion agreed to.
Until 1986, homosexual practice between consenting males was illegal – it was a criminal offence. (Female homosexual practice wasn’t illegal, following the English lead.) Repeal of those criminal provisions occasioned a vigorous – at times vicious – public debate.
Even among evangelical churches at the time there was a range of views. At the time, probably not many openly looked with favour on homosexual practice. But reasonable people could differ on to what extent what was sinful should also be unlawful. On the one hand, the law is a teacher, and homosexuality has long been shunned – not just on narrowly Christian grounds, but as something inconsistent with the fundamental need for societies to reproduce themselves. On the other hand, plenty of things that were and are sinful are not criminal offences. Adultery, for example, although still illegal even in some places in the United States, is not a criminal offence in New Zealand. One could imagine an arguable case that adultery was more of an offence against society than homosexual practice. It is, after all, specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Then again, the Bible seems to treat homosexual practice at least as severely as adultery, or rape for that matter. They are crimes against God, and against society, even if they consensual.
I honestly can’t remember my own views at the time. I do recall going to a public meeting in 1985, in the Wellington Town Hall, held by the opponents of decriminalisation (I was young and single, and went to lots of such things). I think I was moderately sympathetic to reform, but recall being shocked at the aggressive attempts of a large group of homosexual activists to disrupt the meeting (I found myself seated in the middle of them).
Perhaps what no one could envisage back then – perhaps some of the champions of reform hoped for it, but even if so wisely kept quiet about their hopes – was how quickly society has moved from decriminalising behaviour to celebrating it, to becoming almost intolerant of anyone dissenting from the new orthodoxy, in only a few decades. We have legal provision for something called “marriage” between people of the same-sex. In the US, tradespeople find themselves penalised, their livelihoods destroyed, if they refuse to assist in the celebration of such “weddings”. Fortunately – and I’m not quite sure why – we haven’t yet fallen quite that far in New Zealand.
But this week, the government introduced to Parliament a bill to allow people who had been convicted of homosexual activities up to 1986 to have those convictions expunged. And with that bill came the motion reproduced at the start of this post. Perhaps the offences never should have been part of the criminal law – they apparently weren’t in modern England until 1885 – but the laws were put in place through a democratic process and were generally accepted as part of our law for many decades. Even as matter of public policy process, it seems like the height of arrogance, and historical revisionism, for today’s Parliament to retrospectively decriminalise behaviour. People rightly object to retrospective legislation, and I’m not sure it is any less offensive to criminalise retrospectively something that wasn’t illegal at the time the act was done than (as now) vice versa. It isn’t as if the law was unknown at the time – people caught unawares. It isn’t as if there is any evidence that the Court process was abused, or people were denied access to a fair legal hearing and representation. They committed acts they knew were illegal and risked the consequences. It was a conscious choice.
There must be many other things over the years that were once offences and are no longer. Just as many things that are now offences once were not. How many of those things that are no longer offences is Parliament offering expungement for? As far as I’m aware, none at all. Adultery was formerly an offence is many places (still is in some, including many US states). Abortion was, generally, illegal.
So what makes homosexual practice different? Well, an effective lobby for one. But the total number of homosexuals is small, and the number directly affected by this legislation is tiny. What seems to be different is the determination of our societies – particularly their elites, but with little real resistance now from the populace – to not just normalise but to celebrate behaviour that, across cultures and across time, has long been seen as debauched and threatening to society. Use the word or not, it was sinful, or taboo. It happened, of course. Homosexual attraction or desire are real. The urge to sloth, to gluttony, or to lie, to cheat, to steal, to lust after a woman not one’s wife are real too.
But society today – at least in the West – seems determined to force people to accept that homosexuality is not of this category: a illicit and damaging desire to be resisted and, where that failed, repented. It isn’t just a message that homosexuality is no more serious an offence, or sin, than other things – something that is surely largely true – but a determination to de-sin it altogether. To call clean behaviour that God has called unclean. Sadly, the decadence has made its way into the church – not just the mainline liberal churches – but increasingly into the evangelical church, a cancer eating away at the faithfulness to the gospel of the church, as it marries the spirit of the age. Here is a recent US poll – not just on tolerance of homosexual practice, but endorsement of same-sex “marriage”.
I’d be surprised if the New Zealand numbers were much difference.
And so the Minister of Justice came to Parliament the other day and speaking to the bill/motion said
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. We are acknowledging that these men should never have been burdened with criminal convictions, and we are recognising the continued effects that the convictions have had on their lives and the lives of their families. New Zealand has a proud reputation for fairness, freedom, and diversity. It is unimaginable today that we would criminalise consensual sexual activity between adults.
Calling right what society for millenia called profoundly wrong. No doubt the Minister’s statement in that final section is descriptively accurate, but it is a telling reflection of how far New Zealand society has decayed. A society that no longer recognises that potency and fundamental importance of sex, and the need to channel and discipline those impulses through a committed life of marriage between one man and one woman.
The Minister’s speech was relatively moderate. She had technocratic details of the bill to get through. The following speakers were positively celebratory. Grant Robertson (a leading Labour Party figure, himself gay) ended noting that things still hadn’t gone far enough
Even today the shame and hurt of being different from the majority still exists. Young people are still given the message that being who they are, simply being in love, is something that the rest of society is tolerating, putting up with, allowing. That is not good enough. Today not just gay men but lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and all the colours of the rainbow need to know that we love them for who they are and the rich and amazing contributions that they make. Today is a day to celebrate progress, but if there is change to make right that wrong of the past, we must give the ultimate legacy of a country that includes embraces and cares for all our people.
Not enough people in society yet celebrate sin and depravity.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think – as the traditional churches don’t – that homosexual desire is itself sinful. What matters is what people do with those impulses and desire. For a man to look at a woman with lust in his heart as at least as serious – Jesus names it as sin. For a man to regard a beautiful women isn’t. For a person to admire a fancy house in a wealthy seaside suburb is no sin. To covet it, to take actions to try to obtain it is. Actions matter. Temptation comes, and we are called to resist. Many times we will fail – sin is a part of our experience all through life – but the response to failure isn’t celebration but repentance, and through repentance and forgiveness, restoration.
Perhaps the only slightly surprising thing about the debate is that apparenly not a single member of Parliament believes the expungement legislation is wrong, or that the apology is wrong. There are Christian MPs. What of them? Can they really all have gone over to the decadent side? The speaker for our one sometimes-conservative party, NZ First declared
Convictions for homosexual offences…… were based on bad law—law that was contrary to natural reason, law that was contrary to natural law.
Unwise? Impractical? I could see arguments for those stances, but no the stance that was in our criminal law, reflected the practice of the ages, was according to NZ First “contrary to natural law”. Wow. One wonders if these people could have imagined 30 years ago what they’d be saying now.
Perhaps some MPs are quietly uneasy, and were simply afraid to speak out – it is, after all only three months until an election. But even if so, that surely is a mark of how far our society has fallen away, into the path of decadence. It is no longer even a matter of open debate; there is apparently only one right and publicly acceptable way. Listening to mainstream media (Radio NZ for example) it was all with a tone of “at last”, with no reflection on whether there was any wisdom at all in the stance of thousands of years. Just the presumption that at this late date, having thrown off the shackles that once constrained, new wisdom is upon us. Recency errors are no less errors for being modern.
Rarely, if ever, have I heard sin celebrated so openly by our political leaders. Sometimes, apparently good stuff comes from bad acts – greed can be part of what leads people to build great companies – but even then it is usually the outcomes that are celebrated in the open, not the impulses. It was a day of shame for the New Zealand Parliament, encapsulated in the contributions to the debate and in the favourable vote, without dissent.