World

U.K. pardons thousands of men convicted under past anti-gay laws

Thousands of men convicted under now-abolished anti-homosexuality laws in Britain have been pardoned posthumously under a law passed on Tuesday, and many more still alive can now apply to have their criminal convictions wiped out.

Men with convictions can apply to have their names cleared under 'Turing's law'

Alan Turing, who helped crack Nazi Germany's secret codes during the Second World War, was convicted for gross indecency. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Thousands of men convicted under now-abolished anti-homosexuality laws in Britain have been pardoned posthumously under a law passed on Tuesday, and many more still alive can now apply to have their criminal convictions wiped out.

Announcing the new law, the U.K. Ministry of Justice said the pardons apply automatically to deceased men who were convicted for consensual same-sex relations before homosexuality was decriminalized several decades ago. Men living with convictions can apply to the government to have their names cleared.

"This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologized and taken action to right these wrongs," Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said.

Activist Peter Tatchell, who campaigned for 30 years for the pardons and an apology from the British government, welcomed the new law.

"It's very, very welcome for the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 gay and bisexual men who were convicted under anti-gay laws dating back decades, even centuries," said Tatchell. "For them, this is saying that they are fully pardoned, that the state recognizes that an injustice was done and that's a very, very important signal. Even though it has taken a 30-year campaign to get here, I'm really pleased."

Tatchell noted some omissions in the legislation, including pardons for men convicted of soliciting and procuring same-sex partners under the sexual offences acts of 1956 and 1967. Nor did it pardon "those people, including some lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling" under a variety of laws.

Turing's law

Calls for a general pardon have noted the 1954 suicide of Second World War codebreaking hero Alan Turing after his conviction for "gross indecency." After he received a posthumous royal pardon in 2013, pressure for pardons intensified.

Turing, a computer-science pioneer, helped crack Nazi Germany's secret codes by creating the "Turing bombe," a forerunner of modern computers. His work helped shorten the Second World War, and he was an innovator of artificial intelligence.

After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He died at age 41 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

What is now known as "Turing's law" had been a longstanding government commitment, Gyimah said. It is part of the Policing and Crime Bill which received royal approval on Tuesday.

In its announcement, the ministry said that as well as posthumously pardoning gay and bisexual men, the law allows those still living, and who were convicted in cases of consensual sex with other men of legal age, to apply for pardons.

"This will ensure that due diligence is carried out and prevent people from claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes, including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity," it said.

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