Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 5. 1967.
What does a liberally inclined group do when it wants to change a law, and the social attitudes that support it?
This is the problem facing the newly-formed Wolfenden Association. Primarily, they want the existing law changed to legalise Homosexual Acts between adult consenting males, in private.
There are a number of subsidiary changes they would like to see introduced too, if the comments of one of the legal speakers at their inaugural meeting, Mrs. O. Smuts-Kennedy are to be seen as expressing the viewpoint of the reformers.
Legal change takes place in a social context, however, as Victoria University Psychologist Peter Blizard noted in his address. In opening up homosexuality for public debate we should not try to avoid moral, religious, psychiatric and sociological considerations, he said.
For the 200 who went to the advertised public meeting and voted for the formation of the new pressure group, the aim was clear.
But as far they knew, they were 200 alone, with an unknown amount of public support, suspicion or opposition. The man who would be responsible for writing a change in the legislation—the Minister of Justice, Mr. Hanan— was on record as opposing reform some years back, and of offering "no comment" when asked a week ago.
So they elected a committee of 11 to work out ways and means. It would decide the name of the group—as important a task as any in the initial stages. For the name would become the best known and should symbolise in the public mind all the group stood for.
It would come back to another public meeting with proposals on how to lead change—a process which one lawyer present wryly remarked on as not being likely this year.
Workers would be needed for the time consuming, probably frustrating countless small tasks such as typing, pamphleteering, letterboxing and crusading necessary to convert public and official opinion.
What sort of reaction are they likely to meet with? Some has crystallised out already. Some newspapers carried news reports of their meeting, the NZBC Compass team were present preparing a film for last Thursday, some interested groups indicated their sympathy. So did some individuals — prominent ones —whose names the Convener carefully read out at the beginning to emphasise the respectability of the reform movements following.
Maybe it was not coincidental this list included a handful of Professors, individuals who had previously made their names by fighting in some minority cause, and an assortment of university staff, About half the audience were either students, staff or graduates of Universities, others who evidently came from contrasting walks of life were both male and female.
If the Universities alone catch onto the spirit they could create problems for themselves with the community. From one point of view this is irrelevant, if a cause has sufficient intrinsic worth then Universities and anyone else should throw their weight behind it.
But Mr. Shand's warnings about the uses of academic freedom, delivered at the annual New Zealand University Students' Association Easter Council, will tip the scales in the conservative direction in the minds of some. Their feeling, which has been a consistent and a powerful one in student and university affairs emphasises the need for placid public relations.
But whatever the universities do as an organised group, individuals as ever will throw their lot in behind such a liberal cause. Individual researchers and publicists will present their views.
It will be the same among the churches, the unions and other organised groups. Rev, Lance Robinson, an Anglican who spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Wolfenden Association was, for example, at pains to indicate his opinions were personal, Opinion within the Church was likely to be as divided on the issue, as it was in the community at large.
Resistance has crystallised out already too, it seems, Peter Blizard, who had stood as a Labour Candidate last election, mentioned in prefacing his address that a union executive had hinted at the implications of Peter endorsing a liberal view of homosexual problems, and mentioned the political cost of such a stand.
This will be the situation Mr. Hanan will be in too. For even his liberal image will be insufficient to bring change within the National Party, if his colleagues view the proposal with disdain. But working for reform is a probable shift in public opinion in favour of reform over the years, and the example of Britain. The House of Lords may have supported the Wolfenden Commission's reform proposals because they believed them to be correct, or because they saw how impossible it was to enforce existing penalties for homosexual acts.
The clearness of the reformers arguments stands them in good stead also. Peter Blizard mentioned them in his address.
"The present penal law is often unenforceable. In 1965 193 persons were prosecuted for indecency between males in New Zealand. The included consenting adults, cases involving minors, cases involving public (as opposed to private) indecency.
"Clearly, from the incidence figures referred to only a very small fraction of one per cent of all 'cases' are either detected, prosecuted or both. Thus a change in the Law would hardly change the status quo.
"The unsuitability of imprisonment: succinctly," he said. "This is just the same as giving an alcoholic a two-year sentence of hard labour behind a bar.
"That 'private homosexuality' poses little moral threat to the community, in this context the lack of harm that private homosexuality poses is compared and contrasted with both fornication and adultery—neither of which are, or should be offences."
Mr. Blizard noted that these did not necessarily include all the reasons for reform, the possibility of blackmail was only one more.
New Zealand, with its tradition of social reforms is far behind on this question. In Britain homosexual acts between adult consenting males in private will become law shortly.
Other countries are in advance of New Zealand also Belgium: Homosexual acts are not punishable as such, but only if there are circumstances of indecent assault, relations with minors, abuse of authority, violation of public decency, etc. Denmark: Homosexual acts per se ceased to be crimes in 1930 ... similarly in France. Greece, Italy. Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland according to information provided by the meetings convenors. In Germany and Austria, alone among European countries, however, all homosexual acts between males are punishable, although the law does not punish such acts between females.
This is he background to a new movement. For its promoters the price could be success, it could be failure, or it could be public scorn.