18 May 2003
Gay couple withdraws surrogacy bid
by Donna Chisholm
Two gay men who sought ethics approval to become surrogate parents have withdrawn their application, saying they are outraged at the prejudice against them and the way word of the proposal was made public. They told the Sunday Star-Times the system which required them to seek approval was fundamentally discriminatory. Their application was to be considered next month. "A single woman can get pregnant with the assistance of a fertility clinic and use the donor of her choice. Even a lesbian couple is not subject to such scrutiny." The men live overseas but hoped to have a child through artificial insemination of the sister of one of them.
The Catholic church has publicly opposed the plan saying it would be wrong to deprive the child of its mother. But the men said they always intended the surrogate mother to play a significant role in the child’s life. They rejected the view that having two loving parents bringing up a child was undesirable just because both parents were men. "Family units are more varied in their nature and structure today than ever before, and a modern society needs to adjust its thinking and perception accordingly." Their lawyer Antonia Fisher said she had met both men and the sister. They were well-adjusted individuals with integrity and honesty and she was struck by their genuine desire to become parents. That desire remained, she said.
The men said there were deep-seated flaws in the ethnics committee structure and there were not appropriate guidelines or protections in place to cope with applications like theirs. Many gay couples have children with men or women friends without seeking ethical approval, but Fisher said her clients wanted to do everything by the book. Their attempts to work through the correct channels and within the system had worked against them, they said, and the committee had not approached the application in the way they expected. "We have been hindered by delays, costs and prejudice which we didn’t expect to find in New Zealand."
Fisher has complained to ethics committee chair Professor Sylvia Rumball asking how potentially identifying details about the case were leaked. The details were not listed in the minutes. "Our privacy has been invaded," the couple said. Fisher said the men were mortified that such a personal matter had become public. Rumball was out of New Zealand and unavailable to comment and her deputy Ken Daniels could not be contacted.
29 October 2003
Hero parade has new debt-free outlook
(Note: Hero parade is no longer held. Posted Fall 2004)
by Annabel Scaife
Auckland’s legendary Hero Festival is tickled pink to be debt free at long last. A heavy $140,000 cloud has hung over the bankrupt trust for more than two years, but the gay festival is back on solid ground. A group of gay Auckland businessmen, who stepped in to clear bills incurred by the Hero Charitable Trust, has reached an agreement with creditors. The Hero Brand Management group offered creditors part payment on outstanding bills, after a scaled-down Hero Festival raised about $25,000 earlier this year. All have accepted the gesture, with most returning the money as a donation. Management group spokesman Barry Davis says the donations provide a small but useful start to fundraising for future events.
With all the debt formally signed off, the trust is legally entitled to trade, allowing it to plan a festival for February 2004. Mr Davis says it’s unfortunate there isn’t time to organise a Ponsonby Rd parade. But co-ordinators of the next Auckland Festival, AK05, are looking at making a Hero Parade a key part of their programme. The debt-clearing exercise has provided useful guides and pointers on administering future festivals, he says. "It should see the trust operate so as to avoid the pitfalls of the past."
The management model used will put responsibility for various events in the hands of individual organisers. The Hero Trust will co-ordinate the festival rather than organise individual events, assist with overall direction, sponsorship and fundraising. Mr Davis says the management group thanks the gay community, creditors, event organisers for their support and understanding.
A Maori Writer in Two Worlds–Ihimaera Witi
The Uncle’s Story by Ihimaera Witi
Penguin Putnam (2000)
Univ. of Hawai’i Press (paper, 2002)
Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Ihimaera Witi
Reed Publishing (Auckland, New Zealand), 1995
Witi Ihimaera was born in 1944, in Gisborne, New Zealand, into the Te Aitanga A Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, and Ngati Porou tribes. The New Zealand writer and poet Bill Manhire once noted that if Moby Dick were translated into the Maori language, its introduction would be titled "Call me Ihimaera."
The Ihimaera is a Maori version of the name Ishmael. His nickname is "Wicked" Ihimaera. Ihimaera emerged as a writer in the 1970’s, a time of Maori renaissance in the arts. In 1972 he published his first book, Pounamu, Pounamu, a collection of short stories. New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk read the book and selected Ihimaera to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a diplomat Ihimaera served in Canberra, New York, and Washington.
In his acknowledgments to The Uncle’s Story (2000), he remembers the grief surrounding the unveiling of the AIDS Quilt in Washington in 1997. His second book, Tangi (1973), which tenderly portrays a boy who learns about his father’s death, is considered the first novel written by a Maori writer. Currently Ihimaera is teaching in Auckland and has compiled and edited a number of anthologies, one of which is called Growing up Maori (1998). With his curious mind and restless feet, Ihimaera is still surprised by his achievements, by his transition from a suburban youth into a famous writer.
In a personal letter to me, he remarked that "it was Richard Ford who emphasized that passion is worth more than form or style in writing. I like to think that, if anything, people might remember my work for its passion and subversive energy." Of his two gay books, Ihimaera prefers Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1995) to The Uncle’s Story. In 2002 a movie based on Ihimaera’s novel Whale Rider (1988) was screened in New Zealand and later will be shown at the Toronto Film Festival. Witi Ihimaera considers English to be his primary language for articulating his visions of Maori identity.
In an interview with Paul Sharrad he said that the Maori langJdage is "sacred" for him, and that English is a "profane" language. He also notes that if his works were written in Maori, they would not reach as wide an audience. What’s more, he stresses, Maori is a warrior culture and a homophobic one at that, and does not always have special terms for the ideas he wishes to express. I first heard about Witi Ihimaera from Brian Boyd, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on Vladimir Nabokov. Ihimaera and Boyd are both professors at the University of Auckland in New Zealand; Boyd has characterized his colleague as "the leading male Maori novelist." If, as structural anthropologist Levi-Strauss maintained, we understand the world through bipolar opposites, Ihimaera’s work is intensely involved in the exploration of such polarities: aboriginals versus newcomers; homo- versus heterosexual relationships; Maori versus "Pakeha" or white New Zealanders.
Each has a strongly personal dimension for Ihimaera, who struggles in both his life and his work with the opposition between tradition and modernity, with "the dilemma of being Maori in a postmodem world." His latest work, a play entitled Woman Far Walking, in which a 161-year-old heroine (!) is born on the day in history on which a treaty was signed between Pakeha and Maori over land ownership, is devoted to this edgy coexistence. A former diplomat, Ihimaera dwells on relationships, both political and private ones, in his two most recent novels, each of which has a strongly gay theme: 1995’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and 2000’s The Uncle’s Story.
Prior to writing Nights in the Gardens of Spain, which can probably be considered the first Maori gay novel, Ihimaera never touched upon a gay theme, so I can only assume that for readers accustomed to his more mainstream works depicting Maori myths or exploring Maori notions of masculinity and matriarchy, they came as something of a shock. At times the opposition between "gay" and "straight" becomes entangled with an opposition between "gay" and "Maori." When in The Uncle’s Story Sam falls in love with Cliff, an American chopper pilot with whom he served in Vietnam, his father presents him with the stark choice of being either Maori or gay, declaring that the two are incompatible.
A lesbian Maori activist, Roimata, remarks that the central character in this book, Michael Mahana, has been "colonized twice over," once as a Maori in the context of a Pakeha-dominated society, and once as a gay man in a subculture that is itself controlled by white values and aesthetics: "[I]t is their images which tell you what is desirable, what you should be like and what you shouldn’t be like." The theme of double condemnation is echoed by one of the characters in Nights in the Gardens of Spain, who observes: "It is bad enough to be gay in this cultural milieu, but it is doubly disempowering to have a white lover of either sex."
Here the opposition between being Maori and being gay is explained by a Maori activist: To be gay instead of "the iwi" is to be selfish. Somebody needs to carry on the family lineage, "as proudly as a flagpole." To shirk this duty is to disregard the priorities of the tribe.
The title of Nights in the Gardens of Spain comes from the title of a musical work by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. (A Maori by birth, Witi Ihimaera is somewhat European in spirit. Awarded the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, he lived for a year in Menton, France. A devotee of Western classical music, he wrote the libretto for an opera, Galileo, that premiered last summer in England.) The novel’s hero and narrator David, a university professor in a film studies department, is open to Western culture and introduces his students to Shakespeare, Orson Welles, and Roman Polanski. He teaches them various versions of Macbeth: the play by Shakespeare; the film noir movie Joe MacBeth by Ken Hughes; and the movie by Welles.
Here he seems to be underscoring the very Maori notion that a story can be told in a number of different ways. While Ihimaera insists that Nights is not completely autobiographical, both he and his hero David have two daughters. David is married to a woman named Annabelle, who possesses "intelligence, beauty, strength and passion." Despite her faithfulness, however, David leads a double life and intends to leave her. One chapter is called "One’s Real Life is Often the Life One does not Lead." During the day David shares household chores with his wife, teaches, and takes care of nine-year-old Miranda and sevenyear-old Becca; at night he frequents saunas and gay bars. In the morning, he stares at his face in the mirror and sees two people there. Will he be able to consolidate them? Steamy scenes in the showers alternate with a happy domestic life, creating a sharp, sometimes painful, contrast. David’s father says that homosexuality is a weakness, but David shows that he’s capable of great strength. He contemplates the convenience of entering into a straight marriage versus the consequences of establishing a samesex union without tribal approval, based solely on a free choice.
A chapter called "The Steam Parlour" offers a commentary on the ethnic variety of men: "Blacks are generally bigger. Orientals are surprising sexual gymnasts. Scotsmen are to be savoured. Poles smell of hay. Dutchmen are collector’s items. Englishmen are apologetic until coaxed out. Americans are gorgeous and come with tans. Polynesians, by virtue of their sensual natures, are the best."
If being gay casts any doubt on one’s manliness, David seems determined to prove his masculinity by the sheer quantity of lovers he pursues, as if the more men you sample, the more of a man you are yourself. And yet, he also wants to find a suitable man with whom to settle down. Back on the home front, when he finally reveals his homosexuality to Annabelle, she can’t believe him and vomits violently. When he gives his daughter a glass of milk, Annabelle is afraid that he could pass AIDS on to their children.
Ihimaera’s writing, to use a Nabokovian image, may be described as having muscles: as well-toned and athletic. Every joint of his flexible prose moves smoothly and purposefully. Nights in the Gardens of Spain is really about family nightmares and the decisions one needs to make to live on one’s own terms. The gallery of female protagonists includes the protagonist’s unsuspecting daughters, a wife disgusted by her husband’s homosexuality, and the hero’s mother, who at one point exclaims that she wishes she’d never brought him to the world.
(Again, this attitude is caused mostly by fears about the family lineage ending. A character in The Uncle’s Story, the Noble Savage, states that his mother cannot stop grieving after her realization that "the whakapapa"-genealogy-would cease after her son.) Some provocative moments of the book were apparently omitted: a note at the end of the book mentions that "the original, more explicit and ruthless version of Nights in the Gardens of Spain" can be accessed in the author’s archive only with special permission.
This need to sanitize the original version certainly gives one pause. Still, even the published version gives us an idea of how raw and rough a closeted gay life in New Zealand can be: "There are three places in this city where I like to find sex after midnight. The first is Steam Parlour. The second is The Fuck Palace. The third is the Maze. Around this threesome there are the other establishments. The bars with their members-only Jack Off clubs. The X-rated gay cinema in the sleazy downtown area by the dock. Handcuffs (the S&M bar), Cowboys (the leather bar), the Powder Puff (the transvestite bar), Fa’a-afine (the Polynesian bar), The Tool Room, the two lesbian bars and the gay pubs" .
Ihimaera has a way of painting small, touching episodes against the backdrop of large political events. One example is the story of John Johns or "Choirboy" at Saint Crispin’s, a boarding school, when he’s assaulted by the other boys after letting everyone know that he’s homosexual. Choirboy is pushed into a urinal and beaten up. David, at that time a teenager, rescues him. "In New York in the late 1960’s, a group of transsexuals and transvestites threw bricks at Stonewall Inn and, with that act, Gay Liberation was born. Choirboy was like that for me. When he was assaulted for being what he was, he became all that Stonewall represented. He did not hide what he was, as I did. He was the bravest of us all."
Toward the end of the book, we learn that another character, Jack, has committed suicide because his lover Warrick was out tricking too much. David learns that Jack was actually Choirboy from Saint Crispin’s. Such is the way in which the past can come back to haunt the present in the life of David.
In The Uncle’s Story, a novel devoted to "all the Sams and Cliffs of the world," Ihimaera invites us to compare the love between Cliff and Sam to that of Tristan and Isolde. The frontispiece offers an epigraph from Wagner’s "Brangane’s Warning" and informs us that the book’s working title was The Brangane’s Warning. The story is about a young, gay Maori man named Michael Mahana, disowned by his family for announcing, right before his sister’s wedding, that he is homosexual. Michael discovers the secret of his late Uncle Sam, who was drafted and shipped off to Vietnam. Sam was also disowned by his father, a tough Maori warrior, for having brought back from Vietnam the blond, handsome Cliff Harper, a.k.a. "Woody Woodpecker," an American chopper pilot. It was amid the atmosphere of battles, brothels, bars, and booze that Sam-almost without knowing it, mistaking his feelings for male camaraderie-fell in love with Cliff.
Sam had given Cliff Harper a family treasure, a little amulet called a "hei tiki," a figurine of a man (Tunui ate Ika) that Maori men pass from one generation to the next for protection. Noticing this gift, Sam’s father Arapeta understands everything in one hair-raising instant and goes completely berserk. Michael Mahana learns about Sam from his Aunt Pat, a pathetic spinster who, while a teenage girl, was infatuated with her brother’s lover. Michael himself is involved in the activities of the gay and lesbian Maori community and has a lesbian friend Roimata, the CEO of Toi Maori, an indigenous arts organization. While trying to find out the truth about this uncle who was erased from family history-his page tom from the family Bible, his body buried in unconsecrated ground-Michael Mahana is led to sort out some issues with his boyfriend Jason. Indeed Michael and Jason decide to split up, thanks in part to Jason’s therapist.
There are some moments in the book that are hard to believe, at least within a modem Western context. Arapeta whips his grown-up son, a soldier who survived deadly warfare in Vietnam, for disobeying by "not repenting his sin," and adds to Sam’s humiliation by urinating on him, proclaiming that he’s no longer his son "or a man"! Several times in both novels, Ihimaera uses the term "gay tribe." He doesn’t elaborate at length, but does see a connection between a hypothetical "gay tribe" in relation to Maori society and the latter in relation to white society.
At one point the colorful Roimata urges: "Don’t you understand, Michael? The issues of identity and space–of sovereignty, of tino rangatiratanga that our people have been fighting for within Pakeha society are the same issues for gay Maori within Pakeha gay society! That gay tribe that your Auntie Pat asked about won’t just happenit will have to be created, God dammit." Roimata pictures a "tribe" based closely on the Maori model, founded not only on the homosexual orientation of its members but on family ties, as well. The tribe would have to have children and heirs. If the children born from these unions turned out not to be gay, they would still be considered as belonging to the gay tribe.
February 8, 2004
Mass ceremony at gay day out in support of bill
A "mass" commitment ceremony was held yesterday at Auckland’s largest annual gay and lesbian festival to kick off a campaign of support for a controversial new bill. The Civil Union Bill, which could be introduced to Parliament as early as this month, would give defacto couples similar rights to married couples. Six gay couples took part in the commitment ceremony and exchanged rings before the 10,000-plus crowd at the Big Gay Out at Auckland’s Coyle Park in Point Chevalier.
The bill would also give de facto and gay couples the right to register their partnerships and would give gay and defacto partners rights such as being recognised as immediate family when a partner dies. Christchurch Labour MP Tim Barnett said currently more than 100 rights in law were not available to defacto and gay couples. "Property rights are a minefield for an unmarried couple’s heirs and next of kin," he said. "For example parents in a ‘blended family’ may be excluded from Family Group Conferences which are open only to ‘recognised relatives’."
Organiser Sandi Goodwin said opponents branding the bill "the Gay Marriage Bill" were trying to deny everyone the same rights. In countries where similar legislation was introduced, 97 per cent of people registering their unions were not gay. Earlier Prime Minister Helen Clark, accompanied by Christchurch MP Tim Barnett and Conservation Minister Chris Carter, made what has become an annual appearance at the festival, telling the crowd the bill was another piece of legislation that would help end discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference or "gender identity". Miss Clark said later the bill was "ready to go" and would likely be a conscience vote by MPs. She hoped there was enough support for it to pass. "I think a majority (vote) is there for it," she said.
3 May 2004
Support split on civil union bill
Support is split for a bill giving registered civil union couples, including same-sex couples, the same legal rights as married couples, a poll shows. The One News-Colmar Brunton poll of 1000 people showed 46 per cent supported the Civil Union Bill, 34 per cent opposed it and 16 per cent supported it only for heterosexual couples.
That meant 50 per cent of those surveyed did not support the bill for gay couples. United Future leader Peter Dunne said the poll showed the Government had no mandate to proceed with the bill, which will create a new relationship status for same-sex and heterosexual couples by legalising and registering civil unions. His party has taken out nationwide advertisements depicting two women being driven away in a wedding car with a "just civil unioned" sign on the back and cans attached to the bumper. "Join with us in opposing this silliness," the ad says. The bill has been drafted and is expected to be introduced when Parliament resumes after a three-week recess.
16 June 2004
Civil union law likely to clear first hurdle
by Helen Tunnah, deputy political editor
Helen Clark and Don Brash are expected to become unlikely allies next week in voting for a law to give legal rights to same-sex and heterosexual couples who do not want to marry. The Civil Union Bill should pass its first reading and be sent to a select committee, but by a slimmer majority than first expected. The Herald understands the vote, expected next Thursday, will be closer than predicted after some Labour MPs developed cold feet, viewing the bill as an unnecessary political risk.
Labour and National MPs have been given a conscience vote on the proposed law. Just two political party leaders are expected to vote against the bill: New Zealand First’s Winston Peters and United Future’s Peter Dunne. Act leader Rodney Hide will vote for it, as will all Green and Progressive MPs because it is party policy. Prime Minister Helen Clark confirmed yesterday she would vote for the bill, while National leader Dr Brash said he probably would but was waiting to see the draft legislation. "I don’t see it myself as a threat to the institution of marriage," he said. "It certainly doesn’t threaten my marriage to allow people to choose not to have a marriage but want some kind of formal recognition of their relationship, be they heterosexual or gay."
The bill will allow heterosexual and same-sex couples who do not want to get married to register a civil union to gain legal recognition for their relationship. There will be a second bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, to clear up a mass of existing legislation which limits or does not recognise the rights of long-time partners. Examples include instances where a wife or husband can ask for a partner’s body to be released for cremation, but a de facto partner cannot. United Future has consistently opposed the bill. Act and New Zealand First have yet to formalise their party positions, but both are expected to allow their MPs a conscience vote. A spokesman for Mr Peters said if the law was tabled in the form expected, he would probably vote against it, as would most NZ First MPs. Mr Hide said he would vote for it.
What is a civil union?
* It is not marriage, but couples who register a civil union will gain legal rights.
* That includes recognition for the relationship such as when a partner is ill or dies.
* A civil union may be registered by same-sex or heterosexual couples.
* Religious groups will decide themselves if they want to perform civil union ceremonies.
* The new law meets obligations to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.
18 June 2004
Nature or nurture? It’s a bit of both, in fact
by Neil Whitehead
The Rev Rob McKay perpetuates an example of outdated religious attitudes to sexuality in his appeal to science for support. Nature/nurture issues were settled decades ago and the debate has moved on. Academics now agree that both nature and nurture and their interaction make us what we are, and those who try to turn back the clock and insist any human behaviour is almost entirely nature or almost entirely nurture are maverick, and paying more attention to activism than science. A far better summary is: "Genes create a tendency, not a tyranny" and "You can foster or foil any genetic tendencies". If one member of an identical twin pair is homosexual, there is only an 11 per cent chance the other twin is. That 11 per cent concordance results from a combination of genes plus upbringing, so we see that neither is overwhelming. So it is genes plus upbringing which create a tendency, not a tyranny. Identical twins have identical genes, and essentially identical upbringing.
The other important factor is chance, which has a strong effect on us because random events are often unusual and memorable. Note that these twin studies incorporate the influences of all factors combined, including those we are yet to discover. The net effect is 11 per cent concordance. We will never, therefore, discover some factor which will negate this conclusion. Homosexuality is only one well-studied example of many. Studies of identical twins for masculinity/femininity, transsexuality, leadership, drug addiction, alcoholism, novelty-seeking, suicide, extraversion, schizophrenia, altruism, depression, fundamentalism and so on only rarely produce concordance near 100 per cent for less common traits.
This argument usually arises because the experience of people is that it can be very hard to change some trait (for instance, alcoholism), therefore it is tempting to say it is innate. But most traits are the result of reinforcement in our minds, and perhaps bodies, hundreds or thousands of times over many years and it is no wonder that a similar prolonged intense effort would be required to change them. Alcoholics can testify to that. Those conservative religious people who believe that part of their good news is that change for any trait is possible, though difficult, have solid scientific backing that it is not unreasonable to try. Is not potential change already the basis for political action of any stripe?
Dr Neil Whitehead, of Lower Hutt, is the author of My Genes Made Me Do It!
August 24, 2004
Maori church’s war dance on gay marriage
by Claire Harvey, New Zealand correspondent
Thousands of black-clad Maori Christians faced off against gay activists in Wellington yesterday at a passionate rally against the New Zealand Government’s plan to legalise gay marriage. " Enough is enough," chanted an estimated 6000 supporters of controversial church group Destiny New Zealand as they marched on parliament. The Destiny demonstrators were accused of trying to intimidate their rivals, a 2000-strong group of gay protesters, but church leader Brian Tamaki, a gleaming-toothed Maori man wearing large gold rings, said his group was supported by "all commonsense New Zealanders".
" It is right and natural to uphold and protect family, the institution of marriage, and of course our children and grandchildren," Mr Tamaki said. The protesters object to the civil union bill, which would allow marriage for gay and lesbian New Zealanders, and support the recent decriminalisation of prostitution. Destiny New Zealand, which preaches traditional family values, abstinence from drugs and alcohol and the importance of living without reliance on government welfare, has more than 4600 members, including a branch in Brisbane. Maori political leaders such as Tariana Turia, leader of the Maori Party, have expressed concern that the church requires all members to "tithe" 10 per cent of their wages to support its televangelist campaign.
Mainstream Maori leaders privately express worries that Destiny may weaken traditional Maori tribal structures by urging members to focus on their immediate family first. But followers are passionate in their support. " Being a member of Destiny teaches Maori men to get away from all that Once Were Warriors stuff, to become better people, to resist evil," said Wiremu Tamaki, an uncle of Brian Tamaki, who was among several hundred church followers bussed in from the North Island city of Rotorua for the rally. "I’m here today to support the family, to support the Lord’s work."
At the rally, more than 300 men of the Destiny church performed a specially choreographed haka, or war dance, which urged politicians to heed "God’s word". Mr Tamaki has registered Destiny as a political party and will field candidates at next year’s election, but has ruled himself out as a candidate. Government MP Georgina Beyer, a transsexual and former prostitute, screamed at the demonstrators. "How dare you use the cloak of Christianity when you are imparting to your children more prejudice and discrimination towards people like me?" Ms Beyer demanded, to the cheers of the gay activists, who claimed they were abused and pushed by members of the Destiny group.
December 9, 2004
NZ recognises same-sex unions
New Zealand’s parliament has passed controversial legislation to recognise civil unions between gay couples. The Civil Union Bill, which passed by 65 votes to 55, also recognises unions between men and women who do not want to marry. The new law, which takes effect next April, gives unmarried couples the same rights as married couples in areas like child custody, tax and welfare. The bill stirred fierce debate, with critics saying it undermined marriage. We will have an opportunity we have always been denied Chris Carter, Conservation Minister But the bill’s sponsor, David Benson-Pope, denied it undermined marriage or posed a threat to the family.
"Civil union offers an alternative to those [couples] unable to marry or who prefer not to marry," he said. The decision came as Canada’s Supreme Court prepared to hand down a landmark ruling on whether gay marriage must be allowed across the country. In a number of countries in Europe, the status of "registered partnership" has been established, including Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Spain has introduced a draft law which will legalise same-sex marriages. And in the US, the state of Massachusetts this year became the first state to issue marriage licences for gay couples. Vermont allows civil unions. History The announcement of result in New Zealand’s vote led to cheering and applause in parliament. Conservation Minister Chris Carter, who is planning a civil union with his partner Peter Kaiser as soon as the law takes effect, told parliament that history was being created.
"Today I sense tremendous joy and enthusiasm. We will have an opportunity we have always been denied," he said. But opponents of the bill have accused the government of trying to undermine the status of marriage. Most opposition MPs from the centre-right National Party and the smaller Act Party voted against the bill. One National MP, Nick Smith, told parliament the legislation was a gay marriage bill in drag. Another MP in the same party, Brian Connell, said: "The fact around this bill is that it’s about homosexual marriage. And the overwhelming view of the people of New Zealand is that they don’t want a bar of that." As a sign of the debate’s intensity, a jar of excrement was left outside the electorate office of David Benson-Pope. An openly gay Labour MP, Tim Barnett, received a castration kit through the post.
April 26, 2005
New Zealand Civil Unions Law Goes Into Effect
by Peter Hacker (Wellington)
A new law allowing civil unions for same-sex couples in New Zealand has not led to the expected rush to register. The law, which also allows non gay couples who live together but do not want to marry to register, went into effect today. Des Smith and John Joliff have been together for 19 years were among the first in line at the Internal Affairs office in Wellington to apply for their license. Their ceremony – complete with street parade and brass band – will take place on Sunday and be conducted by the mayor of Wellington.
But, despite a huge lobbying effort by the gay community to get the legislation through Parliament, many same-sex couples are taking a wait and see approach. The first ceremony will take place on Saturday and will be that of a straight couple. A government spokesperson said that between 500 and 600 people registered for licenses across the country on the first day – a far cry from the several thousand that had been predicted. Tim Barnett, the openly gay member of Parliament who spearheaded the drive to get the legislation passed said he was surprised by the apparent apathy in the gay community.
"I am surprised, but people know it’s not going to disappear next week. It’s now the law, and people don’t have to rush into it, he told the New Zealand Herald. But, he added that "a lot of people are avoiding this weekend because of the exposure." Under the new law, to obtain a license, partners must be at least 18, not related, and cohabitating.
April 27, 2005
Landmark day for NZ’s gay community– civil unions become legal
by Anne Beston
After months of controversy and debate the first day when civil unions became legal passed quietly yesterday, with just a handful of gay couples arriving at registry offices. In Green Bay, 40-year-old real estate agent Steve Hay and his partner, Glenn Lewis, a 31-year-old hairdresser, had returned their completed form by mid-morning.
Mr Hay was the first at Waitakere District Court for an application form and staff had to consult briefly to find the right one.
The pair have been together for seven years and this month had a commitment ceremony – complete with best man and "matron of dishonour" – but will celebrate again when they exchange vows this weekend before a celebrant. " We’re being recognised as a couple in the eyes of the law and that’s a big thing," Mr Lewis said. " There’s a sense of difference. I think it’s brought us closer together."
Mr Hay said prejudice against gay people had not disappeared but the availability of civil unions to homosexual couples was a historic step in New Zealand law. " I think it’s huge that we’ve been recognised in law. It gives legitimacy to something that was illegal 20 years ago," he said. The couple plan a three-week honeymoon in Bali in June. Department of Internal Affairs spokesman Tony Wallace said couples in Christchurch and Wellington had arrived at Births, Deaths and Marriages offices to request civil union forms but the day had been relatively low-key. " But there’s really nothing to benchmark it against," he said. " We didn’t expect everyone would be applying today."
Catholic spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said there had been no special direction to priests to preach against civil unions but emphasised they would not conduct such ceremonies. Richard Lewis, leader of Destiny New Zealand, the political arm of the Destiny Church, said the party and church "did what they could" to stop the passing of the Civil Union Bill. " It really changes the face and nature of that dynamic of marriage which is a tragedy for future generations who we want to enjoy marriage for what it is."
Civil union rules
* Application forms are available from agencies of Births, Deaths and Marriages including district courts.
* The completed form must be returned in person by at least one partner.
* A marriage registrar can act as celebrant or you can hire your own.
* Total cost: $120.
June 10, 2005
Call for more LGBT safety in schools
A gay support organisation working with young glbt people says many schools should be doing more to ensure the safety and well-being of gay students and teachers. Sarah Helm from OutThere says safety in schools for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is one of the next big issues facing the glbt community. A recent study found a third of non-heterosexual students did not feel safe at school most of the time, she says. "This is one of the biggest human rights issues facing the queer community, young people’s right to go to school and be treated with respect and dignity… this kind of harassment makes a huge dent in a young person’s self-esteem and mental health."
She says some schools have done work around making sure there are groups in schools for gay and lesbian students. A campaign has started called Safety in Schools for Queers that aims to make schools safe for non-heterosexual students and staff, and a conference will be held this weekend to discuss strategies and information about the situation in schools.
March 7, 2006
HIV Rate Hits All Time High for Gay Men
The New Zealand Aids Foundation has revealed that more gay men are having unprotected sex than ever before in the country. Last year there were 89 new HIV diagnoses among gay men, the highest number since the epidemic began and a 19% increase on the previous highest figure in 2004. It means that in 2005 there was one new infection every four days.
The figures are “deeply disturbing” says NZAF Board Chair Hoani Jeremy Lambert, “and present a challenge to the Foundation to ensure it keeps its focus sharply on HIV prevention for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM.) “ However,” he said, “if we are to succeed in turning these figures around we need the support of the leaders, business operators, community organisations and individuals in the gay community. In the early days of the HIV epidemic it was grassroots support for the safe sex message that produced the dramatic successes in reducing HIV incidence among New Zealand MSM. If we are not now to see that good work undone, we need to re-energise that community support.”
NZAF Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier said it was very worrying that the 2005 statistics pointed to an increase of unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) among MSM in spite of an abundance of knowledge in this community about HIV and the consequences of unsafe sex. “ There is no other explanation for this increase,” she said, “other than the fact that more HIV positive men, whether they know their status or not, are choosing to have unprotected anal intercourse and more HIV negative men are choosing to have unsafe sex with men whose HIV status they don’t know.”
Ms Le Mesurier said that further analysis was needed but it was highly likely that major factors influencing the increase would include, the success of HIV treatments causing people to be less worried about avoiding HIV; the growth of internet dating, which is hugely increasing the opportunities men have for sex; the integration of the gay community into the “mainstream” making it harder to target HIV prevention messages designed for MSM; and the eroticisation of unsafe sex.”
“ These present real challenges to the Foundation,” she said. “For instance, the diversification and integration of MSM communities mean we are under pressure to develop a wider range of very narrowly targeted resources which is hugely demanding of staff time, resources and finances.” Ms Le Mesurier said the most effective thing the gay men can do to help turn the HIV statistics around is to end what seems to be a growing community tolerance of unprotected anal intercourse.
“ To quote something I saw on a gay message board the other day, ‘People need to stop seeing HIV infection as simply problematic. It is a life-threatening attack on happiness, health and lifestyle’. It will cause you to have to make major compromises in how you live your life; and it is still highly likely, to make you very sick and kill you.”
“ No condom, no sex” is a powerful message to give to prospective sex partners,” she said. “If everyone were to use it, it wouldn’t take long for those who sometimes don’t use condoms to get the message that people who demand unprotected sex, will always get less sex.”
10 March 2006
Clinic to allow gay men allowed to donate sperm
New Zealand’s largest fertility service has changed its mind on accepting sperm donations from gay men. Fertility Associates had previously not allowed gay men to donate sperm, despite a nationwide shortage of donors. Clinic spokesperson, Richard Fisher, says the service made the changes after a gay man was barred from donating sperm and complained to the service and the Human Rights Commission.
He says the service had been acting on misguided advice and was happy to change the rules. Dr Fisher says testing for HIV and hepatitis, and a quarantine process, will remain in place for all donors. An Otago fertility expert says Fertility Associates’ decision will probably pave the way for similar moves at other clinics throughout the country. Dunedin fertility doctor, Wayne Gillett, says his clinic, Otago Fertility Services, will watch observe the changes at Fertility Associates and consider changing its rules. Dr Gillett said allowing gay donors could help ease a shortage in sperm donors.
July 9, 2006
Gay law reform celebrates 20 years
The 20th anniversary of homosexual law reform is being celebrated as part of New Zealand’s "growing up." Homosexual law reform was an issue that divided the country, polarised public opinion and resulted in the biggest petition ever presented to parliament. Photographic exhibition "What are you afraid of?" coincides with the anniversary, showing defining images of what many call a defining time in our political history.
"It wasn’t just a matter of MP’s debating in parliament it was something the community thrashed out…the community discussed at large and that actually changed society, that changed the world we live in," says photographer David Hindley. As well as being a moment where New Zealand "grew up," it also caused huge ructions in a morally divided society. Thousands from both sides protested, hundreds packed public meetings and anti-reformers presented a petition of 800,000 signatures to parliament. The gay rights bill promoted by Fran Wilde eventually passed by just five votes.
"We now have a significant number of gay and lesbians in senior leadership rolls in the public and private sector and nobody cares at all about their sexuality," she says. But as New Zealand celebrates 20 years of homosexual law reform, tolerance of sexual diversity may again be tested by a private members bill allowing gay couples to adopt children. "It should have been dealt with during the civil union debate it was left out for political reasons We need to deal with it now, it’s an unjust legal hole and we need to fill it," says Green MP Metiria Turei
August 13, 2006
iMerst bar to increase gay exposure
Wellington, NZ – Just a day after iMerst bar in Wellington announced it would be appealing to the LGBT market, in the wake of the closures of both Pound nightclub and Monkey Bar, the owners say they will offer weekly nights for gays and lesbians, not monthly, as originally planned. Owners Matthew Simpson and Stuart Kingston, have been in close contact with the local gay scene, and ex-owners of Pound, Malcolm and Scott Kennedy-Vaughan, have been helping the two ‘’straight lads’’ organise drag shows for their first ‘’gay night’’, to be held on Friday August 25.
“"iMerst is one of Wellington’’s only mid-sized venues catering for up to 850 patrons",” says Simpson. "As the venue was previously a theatre, it is ideally suited to host shows, with “exceptional event production facilities” and “an unobstructed view of the stage."” iMerst also has a viewing platform of the main room, from the lounge bar. Simpson says the design is similar to the old Staircase in Auckland’’s Karangahape Road.
October 31, 2006
Gay Asians hesitant to ‘come out’ in New Zealand
Asian lesbian, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) in New Zealand are more likely to keep their sexuality a secret compared with Westerners , a Massey University study says. Senior social work lecturer Mark Henrickson said his findings reinforced the notion that the idea of having an LGB identity was a highly westernised, European concept. Health and social workers needed to be aware of the Asian attitude, the study said.
In New Zealand’s largest study of LGB people, Dr Henrickson surveyed 2269 respondents, of which 491 (21 per cent) were born overseas. Of these nearly 11 per cent were Asian. The study found that while Asian-born immigrants were aware of having same-sex attractions at an earlier age, they were less likely to tell friends, family or colleagues as they grew older. Only 3 per cent of non-Asian respondents said they hadn’t disclosed their identity to anyone, compared with 15.3 per cent of Asian people.
Dr Henrickson said Asian gays were much more likely to remain isolated because they tended to only make contact with other gay and lesbians on the internet. " Of Asian-born respondents, 34.7 per cent had used the internet to make first contact, compared with only 10.6 per cent of other immigrants," the study said. " And a further 18.4 per cent of Asian-born respondents said they had not made any contact with the lesbian, gay and bisexual community in New Zealand."
Dr Henrickson, who teaches in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in Auckland, said the idea of "coming out" as a gay person did not have the same meaning for most Asians. He said an Asian person’s identity stemmed more strongly from family ties and marriage, rather than individual expressions of identity. " Whereas people from western cultures are more likely to be open and positive about the fact that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual – ‘it’s me, it’s my major identity, who I am’ – Asians regardless of sexual orientation, regard their identity as linked to who their parents are, who they are married to," Dr Henrickson said.
There were practical implications from the study’s findings for social and community workers, especially in the area of sexual health education, Aids awareness and prevention, he said. " No social worker should assume that their client is heterosexual, or exclusively heterosexually active."