Today marks the anniversary of the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986, which decriminalised consensual sex between men.
Prior to this, any sexual activity between men was a crime under New Zealand law. The opposition to the reform was greater than campaigners expected, and the narrow passing of the bill - 49 votes to 44 - is a testament to the hard-fought battle mounted by pro-reform activists. Famously, in 1985, anti-reform campaigners delivered a petition against the bill to Parliament, claiming it had been signed by 800,000 people (about a quarter of Aotearoa's population at the time). However, the petition was rejected for containing multiple signatures signed in the same handwriting, along with fake names.
Before the bill passed, homosexual activity being a crime impacted many men's lives. One of Aotearoa's greatest writers, Frank Sargeson, was found guilty of indecent assault after police discovered him with another man in 1929. His name change from Norris Frank Davey to Frank Sargeson was partly to distance himself from his criminal conviction.
The decriminalisation of homosexual sex was a cause for celebration by the queer community in 1986, and we continue to celebrate this significant milestone, and the work by campaigners and politicians that resulted in the law change.
Today, we celebrate the anniversary of Homosexual Law Reform in Aotearoa with poetry by Chris Tse and Ash Davida Jane.
I plead guilty to happiness by living against the law, casting
daily spells to conjure new occasions for homosexuality.
Homosexuals are not the danger spelled out in
dusty leather-bound books written by men who
bind themselves to a fear that reduces joyful lives to dust.
Some sit at the intersection of wrong love and wrong skin.
I love when flesh intersects to form new holy bodies
even though church and state would prefer we suffer.
Blossom into a state of grace—if suffering is worship,
winners and losers collect on both sides of the ledger.
It’s a numbers game—it’s knowing how many
carry pitchforks and where they might be hiding.
I have no reason to hide from the panic they carry so openly.
The only thing I am guilty of is living a life of happiness.
Our hope springs forth from cracks in the institutions
that tell us we are wrong to be alive. We climb their walls
to feel alive, even if they are wrong to tell us
we don’t deserve to breathe the same air.
If breath is universal, and every man deserves the same
rights and freedoms, what must we prove to be treated
with kindness? Treat us as proof that freedom
will not erode your own foundations, that lies
spread by bigots will do more harm than the love built
between two men or two women. We’re haunted by lives
just out of reach, lives that the ghosts of queers past
will never know. We fight for more than just
tolerance. We fight to know how to live life now, to plant
seeds in pavement cracks to show what hope looks like.
Written for Overcom on the anniversary of the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill (9 July 1986).
Ash Davida Jane
the only wedding I want is one where we get married for a visa but are secretly in love
I love to destroy the sanctity of things
just give me a staple gun and a dildo
I want to be fingered and ghosted by
a beautiful divorcée, in no particular order
I’m marrying your dog
and you’re not invited to the wedding
I’ve gotten ordained online and
I’m marrying everyone’s dogs to other dogs
I’m making them pose for wedding photos
I’m going viral with my canine wedding photography business
I’m earning thousands of dollars of influencer money
and using it to pay for my friends’ visa applications
everyone I ever loved left and
I’ll wed you all before I let it happen again
I’ll fabricate months of Instagram DMs
from casual flirting to hardcore sexts
I’ll stage an elaborate proposal at the top of the Skytower
complete with a flash mob performing Love Story by Taylor Swift
let’s have, as they say in Sex and the City 2
a gay wedding
with ice sculptures of ourselves, nude, on every table
and fledgling doves that fly out of the cake when it’s cut
I can think of nothing more romantic than
to stand before your family and friends
and declare your willingness to go through
the most tedious of bureaucratic processes together
I’ll make you laugh on our honeymoon saying things like
what’s so continental about this breakfast anyway
I’ll method act so hard I end up falling for you
and buy you a plane ticket so I can chase you through the airport
but be stopped by security because I didn’t take off my boots
I’ll miss you by seconds
and wallow until you come home
please come home
Chris Tse (he/him) was born and raised in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. He studied film and English literature at Victoria University of Wellington, where he also completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. In 2022, he was named the 13th New Zealand Poet Laureate.
Tse is the author of three poetry collections: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (2014), HE'S SO MASC (2018), and Super Model Minority (2022). In 2021, he and Emma Barnes co-edited Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aoteaora, the first major anthology of writing by queer Aotearoa writers.
Ash Davida Jane (she/her) is a writer from Pōneke and a publisher at Tender Press. Her second collection of poetry How to Live With Mammals was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press, and won second place in the 2021 Laurel Prize.
Jane holds an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and a BA(Hons) in English Literature from Victoria University. She regularly reviews books on RNZ.
Photo by Ebony Lamb