LGBTI rights advocates and community groups have welcomed the NSW Parliament’s formal acknowledgement that sex between consenting men should never have been a crime.

This morning, a bill to allow historical gay sex convictions to be extinguished was passed through the upper house with unanimous support — with Christian Democrat leader Fred Nile even expressing his support for the bill.

However, some amendments to the Criminal Records Amendment (Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill 2014 meant it went back to the lower house in the afternoon for a final vote.

It passed with unanimous support, and the full passage of the bill makes NSW the second jurisdiction in Australia to achieve this, with Victoria the first to do so bill last week.

The NSW bill establishes a scheme enabling people convicted of consensual homosexual conduct, prior to decriminalisation in 1984, to have their criminal records extinguished.

It will also cover people convicted under unequal age of consent laws, which were in place until 2003.

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) convenor Justin Koonin said LGBTI community members had been waiting a long time for justice.

“This act of Parliament sends a powerful message of support to the community, and recognises that consensual sex between men should never have been criminalised,” he said.

“We hope the bill will go some way to redressing the harm that these unjust convictions have caused over the years.”

Koonin acknowledged the leadership of Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith for introducing the bill in the Legislative Assembly, and Nationals upper house MP Trevor Khan for his leadership in the Legislative Council.

Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich — who, along with Notley-Smith, is one of two openly-gay MPs in the lower house — said today was an “extremely proud day”.

“It was indeed amazing to have the support for the Rev Fred Nile, which proves you should never stereotype mps when it comes to LGBTI reform,” he said.

Community organisations said the reform finally removed the stigma of a criminal conviction from the histories of many gay men.

Inner City Legal Centre director Dan Stubbs said: “However, these men have already lived through significant trauma at the hands of the state so it’s crucial that the scheme is confidential, accessible and fair, enabling decision makers to consider all relevant evidence to the benefit of applicants.”

ACON chief executive Nic Parkhill said his organisation was ready to offer counselling services for those who needed it.

“In welcoming the passage of this important bill, we acknowledge the discussion may bring up some long-lasting trauma and shame for individuals involved and that those going through the application process may require some support,” he said.

Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) advocacy and strategic litigation direction Anna Brown, who also played a role in consulting with the Victorian Government to pass similar laws, welcomed the reforms for NSW.

“After raising the injustice faced by [one of my clients] with NSW Government just over a year ago, it’s fantastic to see how far we’ve come in such a short space of time,” she said.

“Erasing these manifestly unjust convictions will help end the stigma, shame and practical difficulties they have inflicted for decades.”

One of Brown’s clients was Tim — not his real name — who had to get a police check for a job application and was horrified to see an undated “indecent assault” conviction listed.

As a result, he withdrew his job application.

Tim said he was now relieved that a black cloud has finally been lifted.

“I don’t see what I did as any different to a couple that goes car-parking, like on Happy Days, but I’ve been punished for what I did for decades,” he said in a statement to the HRLC.

“I would feel closure to a horrible experience in my past and finally able to move forward without the anxiety of thinking that my conviction could be disclosed.”

The NSW GLRL, Inner City Legal Centre, ACON, and the HRLC will continue to work with government and monitor the implementation of the scheme.

Main image: Celebration soon after the bill passed the upper house this morning. L-R: Nationals upper house MP Trevor Khan, NSW GLRL convenor Justin Koonin, Pride History Group president Robert French, Peter de Waal and Peter Bonsall-Boone (who were affected by the laws before the 1984 decriminalisation), Labor upper house MP Penny Sharpe, Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich and Greens upper house MP Mehreen Faruqi.

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