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Yesterday, after obtaining Royal Assent, tens of thousands of homosexual or bisexual men from England and Wales were posthumously pardoned for convictions related to their sexual orientation.
The pardon could concern as many as 49,000 gay and bisexual men who’ll be cleared of crimes of which they would be innocent today. This pardon is the culmination of a long struggle of LGBT associations as well as relatives and supporters of Alan Turing, the Second World War codebreaker condemned to chemical castration in 1952 and who committed suicide shortly afterwards.
This battle had its first victory in 2009, with the official apology of the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown for the way Alan Turing had been treated. Turing had been pardoned in 2013. This year in London on Jan. 11, the House of Commons passed amendments to the Police and Crime Bill to pardon men convicted of homosexual acts under old homophobic laws.
Pardons will also be granted to surviving victims who apply to have their convictions removed.
The announcement made yesterday gave rise to many reactions. The Minister of Justice, Sam Gyimah, said it was a “truly momentous day”. He added, “We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologized and taken action to right these wrongs.”
Tireless LGBT activist Peter Thatchell said that “pardon was an “important, valuable advance that will remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws”.
Before 1967, homosexual acts between consenting adults were criminalized in the name of two pieces of legislation (according to the Sexual Offence Act 1956, England and Wales):
- Gross indecency with another man: Introduced in 1885 and used to prosecute men where sodomy could not be proven.
- Buggery: First used as an offense in 1533 and remained a capital punishment crime until the 19th century
The English law did not refer at any time to sexuality between women, which, of course, doesn’t mean that lesbians were not discriminated against.