Great Britain announced on Thursday it will pardon 65,000 Gay and Bisexual men who were convicted of sex crimes under discriminatory laws which were repealed decades ago. In addition, the process will be made automatic for the over 15,000 men still living who were convicted under such laws and wish to clear their name.
Consensual sex between men over age 21 was decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967, in Scotland in 1980 and in Northern Ireland in 1982. The age of consent for homosexual sex was reduced to 16, the same as the age of consent for heterosexual sex, in 2001.
Under a proposal that some have called the Turing Law, deceased people convicted of sexual acts that are no longer criminalized will receive an automatic pardon. This law was named for Alan Turing, famed mathematician who was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II nearly three years ago.
Among those pardoned may be Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright who was sentenced to two years of hard labor in 1895 after being accused of sodomy, although the complexity of his case makes it difficult to know for sure. He was tried not once but twice, and only after he withdrew a criminal libel lawsuit against his accuser.
“It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today,” Sam Gyimah, the parliamentary under secretary of state for prisons and probation.
The Conservative-led government has spoken out in opposition of the legislation because it “could lead, in some cases,” to pardons for people whose convictions included offenses that are still crimes, like sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity. Apparently, it isn’t only an American value to immediately relate sex with minors to treating Gay men with respect.
“We welcome the government announcement to issue a posthumous pardon to all gay and bi men unjustly prosecuted for being who they are, but we don’t think it goes far enough,” said Paul Twocock of Stonewall, an LGBT advocacy group.
When looking at the history of the U.K. when dealing with Gay and Bi men, many question whether this symbolic move is sufficient in comparison to the punishments.
Matt Houlbrook author of “Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957,” said he was worried that the posthumous pardons contributed to oversimplification of both history and the identities of men like Turing.
“At the same time, a retrospective pardon doesn’t do much to atone for the realities of what it was like to be arrested and prosecuted at the time,” he said.
What do you think? Should these men be pardoned? Does it make up for centuries of torture and shame? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.