In the first case of its kind in New Zealand, an Auckland man is challenging the Human Rights Act after raising concerns over a pastor’s anti-gay comments.
Discrimination against members of the rainbow community is still widespread according to the Human Rights Commission, and there’s no legal protection against hate speech that incites.
Russell Hoban, 63, exposed that gap in the law when he tried to challenge a pastor’s inciteful comments against gay people.
In 2017, Auckland pastor Logan Robertson delivered a sermon calling for gay people to be shot. It made headlines and shocked many, but there were no legal repercussions.
“It made me feel unsafe, it made me feel disempowered. I couldn't understand why under the Bill of Rights there's all these protections and yet in the Human Rights Act itself there were these obvious holes,” said Hoban.
The 1993 Human Rights Act only protects a narrow group of people from hate speech. People who are targeted on the basis of colour, race, ethnic or national origins are protected, but sexual orientation is excluded.
“You’re not treated the same as others and that’s at the heart of this case. It’s about being treated the same as other people, and having your government realise you deserve protection,” said Michael Timmins, lawyer for the plaintiff.
The Government has acknowledged the gap in the law and has proposed fixing it to be more inclusive of gender identity.
Hoban said change is taking too long.
He wants the Tribunal to acknowledge that the pastor’s comments were discriminatory.
“And for this tribunal to make a declaration that the current provisions of the law are discriminatory. That's what we want, what the Government does with that will be up to the Government,” said Timmins.
The hearing is set down for another two days. The tribunal will reserve its decision.