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Scotland pardons thousands of gay men convicted of homosexuality

New law grants a pardon to anyone convicted of same-sex sexual activity prior to decriminalization

Scotland will pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of homosexuality prior to decriminalization.

The Scottish Parliament unanimously approved the new law this week. It will grant an official pardon to anyone convicted of consensual sex that is now legal, the BBC reports.

Scotland decriminalized same-sex sexual activity in 1981, though only for those aged 21 and over. The age limit was lowered to 16 — in line with heterosexual sexual activity — in 2001.

When the Scottish Government introduced the legislation last year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued an “unequivocal apology” for anyone convicted “simply for loving another adult.”

“Those laws criminalised the act of loving another adult, they deterred people from being honest about their identity to family, friends, neighbours and colleagues,” Sturgeon said. “By sending a message from parliament that homosexuality was wrong, they encouraged rather than deterred homophobia and hate. Nothing that this parliament does can erase those injustices, but I do hope this apology, alongside our new legislation, can provide some comfort to those who endured those injustices.”

However, while the law pardons men convicted for homosexuality, it does not automatically clear the convictions from their official records — as such, any employment that requires a background check will still be able to see the convictions.

Instead, under the new law, those affected can apply to have the conviction removed. Should an applicant’s case meet the criteria of the new law, their record will be cleared.

“This marks a key moment where we address a historic wrong, where the law criminalised people simply because of their sexual orientation,” Scotland’s Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who introduced the legislation to the Parliament, said in a statement. “This bill can itself not right the massive injustice caused by laws that helped foster homophobia and hatred, criminalised acts between consenting adults, and stopped people from being themselves around their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

“But this legislation does send a clear message that these laws were unjust. The wrong has been committed by the state, not by the individuals — the wrong has been done to them.”

Tim Hopkins, director of Scottish LGBTQ charity Equality Network, said in a statement that the passing of the law was “concrete recognition of the huge harm that was done to people who were prosecuted or lived under these old laws.”

“Together with the First Minister’s public apology in the Parliament in November, the message is that Scotland has changed for good, and that discrimination is no longer acceptable,” he added.

Earlier this year, New Zealand passed a similar law that allows gay and bisexual men to remove historic convictions from their records, with one senior politician noting that laws against homosexuality “killed people. Hundreds or possible thousands of lives have been lost because men could not bear the shame, the stigma, and the hurt caused by this Parliament and the way that society viewed them as criminals.”

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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