Exclusively for YOUR EX, Writer and director Paul Oremland reflects on the profound changes he has witnessed in societal attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community in New Zealand.

Our film, Mysterious Ways, is now available to stream on TVNZ+. It’s a gay love story about a Vicar who wants to marry his Samoan boyfriend in their church.

I am thrilled that our national broadcaster first screened it in prime time over Easter and now presents the film on demand. This has got me reflecting on how much our country has changed in my lifetime… and much of it for the better!


As a confused teenager in the 1970s, I was in constant fear that my dark ‘shameful’ secret would be exposed. Back then, gay sex was illegal, and people were even imprisoned if caught. There was much hatred and fear around the subject. As a result, families were split apart, people lived double lives, and others committed suicide or agreed to take aversion therapies that did untold damage.

No one was living happily ever after.

Paul Oremland

At school, anyone suspected of being ‘queer’ was teased mercilessly. Ironically, my own ‘odd’ behaviour was put down to my religion. My parents were Seventh-Day Adventists. This was one of the many strict fundamentalist churches that taught being gay was a mortal sin.

I was very confused. I’d never chosen to be attracted to men. I entered a church seminary bargaining with God that if faith could make me ‘straight’ I’d become a preacher. I was 18. The noises in my head only got worse. Another gay guy at the seminary proudly proclaimed his ‘affliction’ had been ‘cured’ by prayer.

Shortly after, he committed suicide.

I gave up on the idea of being a preacher, proudly came out and headed for the UK at the start of the 80s. It was the classic ‘big OE’ and I soon found myself enjoying a much livelier gay scene than the one I’d left behind. I met a wonderful man and we are still together 40 years later.

I also slowly got into making television programs as part of a growing gay rights political movement. In England, though gay sex had been legal for some years, attitudes were not much better than in New Zealand. ‘Queer bashing’ was a weekend sport and the country had just jailed the publisher of the leading gay newspaper for printing a poem suggesting Jesus might have been gay.

The case relied on old ‘blasphemy’ laws that dated back to medieval times and caused a huge uproar.

Then, in the mid-80s, the AIDS crisis profoundly challenged the community in a way that no one saw coming. Friends became ill and died. Front page headlines screamed ‘gay plague’ and suggested we should all be sent to an offshore island. I will never forget meeting a 23-year-old student in a local pub who had just been diagnosed with HIV. In those days, it meant certain death.

He cried as he explained that not only had the diagnosis forced him to ‘come out’, but as a result, his religious parents had disowned him. It was heartbreaking.

Sadly, the same stories were unfolding here in New Zealand. I often returned home to visit the folks. Yet despite such grim times – and perhaps even because of the health crisis, I was aware of how much things were changing.

The country seemed far more welcoming and even supportive. Gay communities led the response to AIDS. There was a queer TV show, amazing pride marches, new venues and growing political pressure for equality.

It was a huge struggle led by many trailer blazers and unsung heroes. In 1986, New Zealand finally introduced law reform that decriminalised gay sex. In 2004, civil unions were recognised, and marriage equality came in 2013. Sadly, such changing attitudes are not reflected in many churches.

Many religions continue to view us as ‘sinners. ‘Mysterious Ways’ is set in the Anglican church – which, though offering ‘blessings’ to gay couples, prohibits an official church wedding.

To quote the film, we are seen as “second class Christians”. While many other denominations, such as Mormons, Baptists, Evangelicals, and Catholics, continue to suggest there is no place for us in their churches. A film where God is on our side would have meant so much to me when I was younger.

Mysterious Ways shows how family, and community can embrace love in all its forms. It also, on a personal level, brings me full circle in a wonderful way that I never imagined possible.

Once, the future looked very bleak. Now I have a wonderful partner. I live in a country that has had a gay deputy Prime Minister, a transexual Mayor and MP, an openly gay former All Black and numerous other ‘trailblazing’ LGBTQ+ heroes.

And while we were making the film, we had huge support from many church leaders and their congregations. They understood the true meaning of the gospel and its message for all – Faith, hope, and love abide.. but the greatest of these is love.”

Mysterious Ways, available on TVNZ+, explores the tender love story of a Vicar and his Samoan boyfriend. It captures their journey as they strive to marry within their church and mirrors the transformative shift from the secretive and fearful 1970s to a more accepting and open present day.


Helpline services are available right now in New Zealand. They offer support, information, and help for you and your parents, family, whānau, and friends.

All the services listed here are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unless otherwise specified.

National helplines

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email or online chat.

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).

Healthline – 0800 611 116