Homosexuality is declared legal in the Australian state of New South Wales.
Homosexuality was criminalised in New South Wales under section 79 of the Crimes Act 1900 which stated thus: “Whosoever commits the abominable crime of buggery, or bestiality, with mankind, or with any animal, shall be liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.” In 1951, with the support of Police Commissioner Colin Delaney, who was noted for his obsession against homosexuality, Attorney General Reg Downing moved an amendment to the Act to ensure that “buggery” remained a criminal act “with or without the consent of the person”, removing the previously existing legal loophole of consent.
The Campaign Against Moral Persecution, also known as C.A.M.P., was founded in Sydney in September 1970 and was one of Australia’s first gay rights organisations. C.A.M.P. raised the profile and acceptance of Australia’s gay and lesbian communities.
On 24 June 1978 gay rights activists in Sydney staged a morning protest march and commemoration of the Stonewall Riots which took place in New York in June 1969. Although the organisers had obtained permission, this was revoked, and the march was broken up by the police. Fifty-three of the marchers were arrested. Although most charges were eventually dropped, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names of those arrested in full, leading to many people being outed to their friends and places of employment, and many of those arrested lost their jobs as homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales until 1984. The event was held each year thereafter and is now known as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008. Following the first parade, New South Wales saw dozens of gay-hate murders from the late 1970s to the late 1990s, of which 30 remain unsolved. The prevailing climate of homophobia and lack of trust between the LGBT community and the police hampered the resolution of these cases.
The first attempt in New South Wales to bring about Gay law reform was in the form of an amendment to the ‘Crimes Amendment Act 1981’, brought forward by Labor MP George Petersen in April 1981. This would have legalised consenting acts between adults. However, despite support from the Attorney General, Frank Walker, Young Labor, and public opinion polls that supported reform, it was defeated by the Catholic-dominated majority right faction of NSW Labor from inclusion before the act’s introduction and was prevented from being included for debate in the Legislative Assembly by the Speaker, Laurie Kelly, who ruled it out of order. He did not appeal the ruling under threat of expulsion from the party. Undeterred, in November 1981 Petersen introduced a private member’s bill which sought to decriminalise homosexual acts in NSW as well as equalise the age of consent to 16. However, after its first reading, the bill was adjourned at the request of opponents of law reform, who used it as an opportunity to rally opposition to the bill. When the bill came to a second reading, the Liberal/Country opposition voted as a bloc against it and over half of the Labor side, freed by the ability to vote according to conscience, joined them, to defeat it 67 votes to 28. During the 1980s and 1990s, Sydney was hit by a spate of gay bashings, hate crimes and murders, a large number of which remain unsolved. This has been the subject of a Police investigation, ‘Operations Taradale’, and called into question issues relating to Police methods at the time and the state of homophobia in society and the police at the time.
It was in 1984 that the Neville Wran Government introduced, as a private member’s bill, the ‘Crimes Act 1984’, which eventually decriminalised homosexual acts in NSW. The bill was supported by the absence of a conscience vote from the Labor side, was subsequently passed with support from some of the Opposition, including the leader Nick Greiner, on 22 May and was assented to on 8 June 1984. However this was done with an unequal age of consent of 18. It was only in May 2003, 19 years later, that the New South Wales Government equalised the age of consent to 16 under the Crimes Act 1900, with NSW being the third last jurisdiction to reform its unequal age of consent law.