New South Wales becomes last Australian state to apologize for laws criminalizing homosexuality

New South Wales has become the last Australian state to apologize for laws criminalizing homosexual acts, 40 years after decriminalization

Charlotte Graham-McLay
Thursday 06 June 2024 07:18 BST
Australia Gay Apology
Australia Gay Apology (AAP IMAGE)

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Louise Thomas

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The leader of Australia's most populous state apologized Thursday for the “unforgivable pain” caused by previous laws criminalizing homosexuality, 40 years after gay sex was decriminalized in New South Wales.

“We are here to apologize for every life that was damaged or diminished or destroyed by these unjust laws,” Premier Chris Minns said in a speech to the state parliament. The legislation “should never have existed,” he added.

The state was the last in Australia to make a formal apology for laws that made gay sex acts illegal, following Victoria and South Australia in 2016 and the country's other three states in 2017. Same-sex marriage became legal in Australia in 2017.

Homosexual acts between adult men were decriminalized in New South Wales in 1984, making it the fifth state to do so. Sex between women was never a criminal offense in the state. The state recorded dozens of “gay hate” deaths in the 1980s, in part because of hostility and fear stemming from the AIDS epidemic.

A legislative change in 2014 allowed men with convictions under the past laws to apply for them to be expunged.

Minns said Thursday that those convicted had lost jobs, futures and family as a result.

“We are very sorry for every person convicted or otherwise who were made to live a smaller life because of these laws,” he said.

“People who reached the end of their days without ever voicing who they really were, without ever experiencing the greatest of human joys, which is the joy of love, we are sorry,” Minns added.

Sydney lawmaker Alex Greenwich told legislators that he was the only openly gay member of the New South Wales parliament, which includes Sydney, and one of only two in the chamber's history.

“This in itself shows how much work we need to do," he said.

“My message to my colleagues today will be the same message as the LGBTQ community had 40 years ago. ‘Get out of our bedrooms, get out of our pants and let us live our lives,’” said Greenwich, who has proposed a bill that would prevent teachers and students at private schools from being fired or expelled for coming out.

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