Social and political groups for homosexuals in New Zealand began with the Dorian Society in the 1960s. By the next decade, sexual and social liberation was in the air. The early 1970s saw the growth of the modern feminist and gay movements.
New Zealanders took their cues from events in the USA. In June 1969 gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a local gay bar in New York, resisted a police raid. The resulting riot made front page news. The Gay Liberation Front emerged to demand change in laws and in society.
In early 1972 Gay Liberation groups sprang up in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch after the academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku was denied a visitors permit to the USA on the grounds that she was homosexual. Other groups formed throughout New Zealand in the next few years. A national group, the National Gay Rights Coalition, did not come about until the late 1970s. It was short-lived and disbanded in 1983.
Changes in the air
The campaign for homosexual law reform began in earnest in the mid-1970s. Member of Parliament Venn Young introduced a Crimes Amendment Bill in 1974 to legalise private 'homosexual acts' between consenting adults. His bill – not passed into law – followed the British model, with a proposed age of consent of 21 (then reduced to 20).
Age of consent was a major issue for the gay movement. The New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Society and gay liberation groups made submissions on the bill. They argued that the age of consent should be set at 16 – the same as for heterosexuals – and that a greater emphasis should be put on consent to activities, rather than the nature of the acts themselves. When Member of Parliament Warren Freer proposed legislation in 1979 and 1980 that set the age of consent for homosexuals at 20 or 18, gay groups gave it no support.
Instead, the gay movement made its own amendments to legislation. The Equality Bill, promoted under the slogan 'The people approve. A Bill is ready. Why delay?', proved to be controversial within the movement and was abandoned in 1983.