Care2 Success! The UK Pardons Thousands of Gay Men
After years of campaigning, the UK has finally offered official pardons for gay men convicted under historical anti-gay laws. The decision provides a way for the 15,000 men still alive today to have their convictions officially expunged.
The change in the law composed part of an overhaul policing and crime bill that received Royal assent, or Queen Elizabeth’s official approval, on Tuesday. The policy was designed to mirror the pardon granted to World War II code breaker Alan Turing, who was infamously hounded by the government and then chemically castrated despite — and, in part, because of — his extensive work for the war effort.
Referring to the change, Justice Minister Sam Gyimah stated, “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologized and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”
A so-called “disregard process” already exists so that gay men convicted of such crimes can have them stricken if the acts are no longer considered illegal today — but this legislation goes a step further.
If an application for disregard is successful — and it’s important to point out that people alive today will still have to apply – -an official pardon can also be granted, thereby lifting the burden of those crimes and expunging an individual’s records. This is an especially significant act, considering that past convictions can prevent access to some government, teaching and security jobs.
Specifically, this legislation makes it absolutely clear that any person who was convicted of either gross indecency with another legal-aged man or the so-called crime of buggery among consensual same-gender adults can have his records changed.
And the pardons are not limited to those living today. The decision allows all persons previously convicted under those offenses–and, in the case of Northern Ireland, under an offense of incitement of others toward homosexuality — to be cleared.
The government has not created a mechanism for family members to check if their deceased relatives will be pardoned, and a list of names will not be published. Thus, it will be up to family members to investigate whether the change applies to them. Deceased persons who were convicted of those crimes were officially pardoned on Tuesday, January 31, when the law came into effect.
It’s important to note that the law only applies to convictions made in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland, of course, handles its own affairs, while Scotland under the devolved powers system will have to manage this aspect of domestic law on its own.
A spokesperson for LGBTQI rights charity Stonewall praised the government’s effort, stating:
This is significant. And it’s as important to the whole lesbian, gay, bi and trans community, as it is for the gay and bi men affected. The more equality is enshrined into our law books, the stronger our equality becomes, and the stronger we as a community become. This month the government issued a clear and powerful apology to every gay and bi man who had been unjustly criminalized for being who they are. This is not just equality for gay and bi men; the passing of this law is justice.
The spokesperson added, “We’re working to ensure that this new process is brought quickly and correctly, and to ensure all gay and bi men unjustly persecuted and prosecuted can finally receive the justice they deserve.”
Other LGBT advocacy groups have similarly praised the move — but with a few reservations. As Care2 wrote in October of 2016 when this change was first announced, the notion that people must still apply to have their records expunged was met with annoyance. Critics argued that the fault was not with the people who were wrongly convicted, but with the government itself. Therefore, it should be up to government officials to do this work.
The government has claimed that while it can blanket pardon those who are deceased, doing the same for those who are living requires more careful analysis. Therefore, officials insist, a blanket pardon is not possible due to the time and money required.
Individual applications allow the government to carefully ensure that the offenses in question are antiquated and currently legal. For example, while same-gender consensual acts between men is not now a crime, hiring a male prostitute still is. As such, some cases can be complex and require scrutiny.
Despite these concerns, UK government has certainly taken a step toward healing the past wrongs committed under old anti-gay laws. For the thousands of men still alive today who were affected by that discrimination, this is a welcome change.
Thank you to over 21,000 people who signed our Care2 petition calling for all men convicted under anti-gay laws to receive a pardon and the opportunity to have their records expunged. This is a significant victory, and it clearly shows the power of the Care2 community in action.
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