Thursday, September 27, 2018

Justice begins

This is an important moment for New Zealand: Today Justice Minister Andrew Little announced that the first two men convicted under now repealed laws against men having sex have had their criminal convictions expunged—it’s as if the convictions never happened. It won’t take away the pain or suffering caused by the injustice, but it is nevertheless a huge step forward.

The Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Act 2018 received its First Reading in Parliament on 6 July 2017, which I blogged about at the time. The bill had its third and final reading on 3 April 2018, and Royal Assent on the ninth of that month.

When I talked about the bill’s First Reading last year, I noted:
“The convicted men would be obligated to reveal their conviction for any number of reasons, such as applying for some jobs or for visas to visit foreign countries. Having the law on the books also left gay men open to blackmail and extortion.”
In the USA, expungement is even more important, because the men convicted under the archaic laws were usually required to register as sex offenders. Many of them are elderly now: Imagine an elderly man applying to live in an assisted living facility, and when they ask if he’s a registered sex offender, he’d have to answer yes, and be denied. All US states need to expunge these wrongful convictions.

However, there’s a problem here, beyond politicians’ reluctance to right historic wrongs, and that’s the fact that things could easily go backwards if the Republicans get to install one or two more extreme radical rightwingers onto the US Supreme Court.

In 2003, the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v Texas struck down all remaining state sodomy laws. While some states repealed their laws after the Lawrence ruling, there are some 17 states that have not repealed or appropriately modified their laws to reflect the Lawrence ruling, including three—Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas—that specifically outlaw gay sex. This means that if a future Court reverses Lawrence, those laws will be in force once again. If that happens, free states should refuse to recognise those convictions, since they couldn’t happen in free states.

None of that can happen in New Zealand. The country’s sodomy law was repealed in 1986, and now men convicted under the old can apply to have their records expunged. It is so much better here.

No comments: