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August 15, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Laying Down The Law – It’s My World That I Want to Have a Little Pride in

It’s hard to know where to begin when discussing homosexuality and the law. As a tool of social control, the law has played a role in the subjugation and then liberation of those in the queer community.

Throughout New Zealand’s history homosexuals have felt the harsh sting of injustice. Here, consenting homosexual acts were illegal until 1986. In the United States, it wasn’t until the Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v Texas in 2003 that homosexual acts were federally legalised. Only a few US states have recognised a homosexual couple’s right to marry—which is something New Zealand has yet to achieve.
But it’s not all been bad news. The Civil Union Act 2004 was welcomed, as was the inclusion of homophobia as an aggravating factor in sentencing. In 2009 Parliament abolished the discriminatory partial defence of provocation, which let homophobic killers get away with murder. And while our adoption laws still discriminate unfairly, the recent decision of Re AMM & KJO, and Labour MP Jacinda Ardern’s private members bill to reform adoption laws, all indicate that change is coming.

Those that protest against the realisation of full equality for human begins are on the wrong side of history. But that still does not stop me from feeling nervous about the backlash that the queer movement inexorably faces.

An example comes from São Paulo in Brazil. Last week, the city’s Council voted to establish a “heterosexual pride day”. The event, supported by evangelical Christians, was to celebrate the rights of heterosexuals. The organisers were quick to claim that it was not a homophobic attack, but instead was a way to “end the excesses and privileges of gay rights”. This is not just a Brazilian view. Arguments against Auckland’s now defunct Hero parade faced the same kind of thinly veiled homophobia.

I was deeply concerned by the developments in São Paulo. Part of me was simply confused—the day didn’t seem necessary, isn’t every day heterosexual pride day? Stuff.co.nz’s “week of weddings” seemed to imply it is. Why is a special day required? And part of me was slightly angry. As a gay man myself I am naturally alarmed by any attempts to downplay and marginalise who I am, and who others are.

But my real concern was more fundamental. The attempt to celebrate the ‘normalcy’ of heterosexuality—in order to end the excesses and privileges of homosexuals—displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of human rights and minority protection.

To characterise pride marches as exhibitions of queer opulence seriously misses the point. That’s not what they are for. Granted, they are often flamboyant affairs. But so what? So is Mardi Gras. So is the Sevens Parade.

But unlike those things, pride events serve a deeper social purpose. They act as a community statement to heterosexuals and to homosexuals. One that says “we are here and we are normal. We are like you. Please accept us. And please accept yourself.”

In a democracy, where the majority vote rules at the expense of the minority the queer community needs to do this. It’s imperative to our survival, and to the recognition of our basic equality. The purpose of public statements of one’s difference is not to marginalise or to create division, it’s precisely the opposite. It’s to remind heterosexuals of the difference that exists, and to celebrate inclusion and tolerance. But it only works in that way because queers are a social minority. It is not a two way street—and it won’t be until every single legal, social and cultural prejudice has been eradicated.

The law has an important role in play in that. Its job is to protect the weak from the strong; to protect the few from the many; to promote equality and fairness. As Justice Albie Sachs said in Fourie v Home Affairs “equality means equal concern and respect across difference. It does not presuppose the elimination of difference. Respect for human rights requires the affirmation of self, not the denial of self. Difference should not be the basis for exclusion or stigma. Equality celebrates the vitality that difference brings to any society.”
And that’s why loud voices, legal activism and street parades are so important.

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About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

Comments (5)

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  1. Jamie says:

    Right on homeboy! Living on the right side of history. :)

  2. Richard says:

    I don’t think I quite understand your argument. You believe that homosexuals deserve the same rights as heterosexuals and yet deny heterosexuals the right to throw a parade in celebration of their sexuality? You say at one point in yor article “In a democracy, where the majority vote rules at the expense of the minority the queer community needs to do this. It’s imperative to our survival, and to the recognition of our basic equality.” Surely the right of heterosexuals to celebrate heterosexuality is just as much a part of “basic equality” as homosexuals right to celebrate homosexuality?

  3. BFG says:

    Honestly Richard? That is what you got from this article? That he was trying to deny the right of hetrosexuals to throw a parade?

  4. Richard says:

    I do not deny that homosexuals should be able to celebrate and normalise their sexuality in the public arena, in fact I encourage it. However, surely if Paul believes that all forms of sexuality are equal expressions of sex and love (excluding things such as beastiality and paedophilia) he would accept that heterosexual parades are just as valid a form of celebration of sexual identity as homosexual parades. To imply that the celebration of heterosexuality is inherently homophobic or an insidious attack on homosexuality is a double standard and ironically displays what could be perceived as “heterophobia”. I support equal rights for homosexuals completely however equal rights means exactly that, equality. To imply that heterosexual celebration somehow opresses homosexuality or vice versa does Paul’s cause a great injustice by perpetuating a polarisation of the two (despite the fact that the sexual spectrum is greatly varied beyond the the two).

  5. Jaydee says:

    The voice of ratioalnity! Good to hear from you.

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